The holiday season is upon us, which means we spend more time indoors to stay out of the cold and to spend more time with family and loved ones. This also means more shared meals and enjoying Grandma’s cooking. The delicious odors that come from cooking are pleasant and enjoyed by all. However, this blog post will discuss the impacts that cooking has on indoor air quality and some recommendations to minimize its negative effects.
What You’re Breathing In
The primary indoor air quality concern when cooking is particles in the air especially ultra-fine particles, or UFPs, and PM2.5 are especially concerning categories of particulate matter. UFPs are particles less than 0.1μm in diameter and PM2.5 are particles smaller than 2.5μm. A study from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office found “significant positive associations between ischemic heart disease mortality and both fine and ultrafine particle species and sources”[note] https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1408565[/note]. In particular, this study cites “meat cooking” as a source for fine particles [note] https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1408565[/note].
Not only can particle levels increase during cooking, but additives in food can also emit polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and aldehydes – including formaldehyde – into the air [note] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872333/[/note]. Research shows that many PAHs are carcinogenic.
A few factors that play a role in impacting IAQ while cooking is the style of cooking and whether an exhaust fan is used. Boiling or electric stoves generate fewer emissions versus frying or gas-powered stoves [note] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872333/[/note]. Not to mention that a gas stove also has the potential to leak gas into the indoor space. Operating an exhaust that is vented to the outdoors helps lower indoor particle levels while cooking. Below are a few more ways to keep your kitchen emissions on the chopping block.
Recommendations to Reduce Cooking Emissions & Improve Air Quality
It is not feasible to completely stop cooking indoors in an effort to improve IAQ. However, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), provides some strategies to reduce pollutant emissions from cooking. ASHRAE recommends the following:
- “Use a hood-style exhaust system that covers the cooktop
- Cook on the burners closest to the exhaust fan, which are usually in the back of the stove
- Increase the flow rate of the exhaust fan, install a quiet exhaust fan to encourage frequent use
- Install controls that automatically operate the exhaust fan when the cooking appliance is used or manually operate the fan whenever the cook-top or oven is used,
- Consider installing an induction cooktop.” [note]LAWRENCE J. SCHOEN; TERRY BRENNAN; AMY MUSSER; ARM. (n.d.). Residential Indoor Air Quality Guide best practices for home design, construction, operation, and maintenance; ATLANTA: ASHRAE.[/note]
If it is not possible to place an exhaust fan in the kitchen, remember that the outdoor air may be better than the indoor air, especially away from roadways and industrial areas. Opening a window to ventilate the kitchen can often help reduce particle levels during cooking. It is also recommended to be on the lookout for gas leaks from gas ranges. If a natural gas odor is perceived, an experienced professional should immediately repair the leak.
Cooking is a necessary day-to-day activity. It cannot be avoided. Next time you are getting ready to cook a meal, consider the effects that cooking has on IAQ. Use the kitchen exhaust as much as possible or open a window to mitigate the emissions from cooking. If you’re buying a new home, remember to note if there’s an exhaust fan present in the kitchen and if it is vented to the outside. Many range hoods merely recirculate the air, especially those built into microwaves mounted above the range top. If you take steps to minimize the effects cooking has on your homes IAQ, next time you sit around the table to dig into a holiday meal you can be thankful that the air you are breathing in is healthy.