Our camp kitchens tend to be filled with hand-me-downs from our home kitchens. They also take a lot of abuse. We drag them out camping, use them in sometimes harsh conditions, drag them back to our garage and forget about them until the next camping trip. If not properly cleaned and dried after every camping trip, all kinds of nasty things can grow in there between outings. Because of that, there can be many hidden health dangers lurking in our camp kitchens—from the germy cutting boards to the molding forgotten foods to the toxic cookware in our chuck boxes.
Nonstick pans are popular cooking tools in our home kitchens as well as in our camp kitchens; they are easy to use and clean, and they don’t require a lot of oil to grease the surface.
As popular as these convenient pans are, many are unaware about the toxic coating that forms the nonstick surface.
Teflon, also known as PTFE, is a brand name for the special coating on nonstick pans. When these pans are overheated or left on the stove too long, the PTFE sometimes releases toxic fumes, which studies have shown can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and can be fatal to birds.
Nonstick cookware can also leach another toxic element directly into your food. The chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used in the making of PTFE, has been denounced by many experts for its carcinogenic properties. Additionally, some research has shown that the chemical can increase the risk of high cholesterol levels, thyroid disease and infertility.
Some experts argue that the amount of harmful chemicals and fumes from nonstick pans are not enough to make you seriously ill. According to their regulations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states PTFE as a coating is safe when used properly. But scientists are still unsure on just how dangerous PFOA is to our health and more conclusive research is needed.
I prefer to err on the side of caution so I don’t include any nonstick pans in my chuck box and when I re-equipped our Boy Scout troop’s chuck boxes over the winter, I did not include any nonstick pans. When we’re camping, we’re cooking on propane stoves, charcoal, and campfires. Managing the flame/heat for any of these can be extremely challenging even for me and more so for young scouts. I have seen young scouts scorch many a pan. And some of them subscribe to the theory that if it takes 30 minutes to cook something on medium heat, it will only take 15 minutes to cook it on high! I should add that I know some adults who still subscribe to this theory! On top of all that, they are not very good about not using sharp metal in the nonstick pans like turning bacon with a metal fork and gouging the nonstick surface, which contributes greatly to its deterioration. For these reasons, nonstick pots and pans are not good options for our chuck boxes.
I reserve my nonstick pans for my home kitchen where I can better manage the heat. In my camp kitchen, I use cast-iron and stainless steel.
Cast-iron cookware is an old-fashioned favorite, and one of the safest cooking options available.
PTFE- and PFOA-free, cast-iron cookware has no added chemicals. In fact, the only thing that may leach into your food is the mineral iron which is actually a good thing!
Unlike nonstick pans, cast-iron pots, skillets and Dutch ovens have no heat limitations and can go from the propane stove right onto a grill, charcoal or open flame.
Stainless steel cookware is considered to be another safe choice.
This cookware gets its name because of its ability to resist corrosion. The surface of stainless steel does not flake, so pieces of the material do not break off and contaminate your food like with most nonstick cookware.
Stainless steel is a combination of metals, including carbon, chromium, nickel and/or manganese. Because stainless steel contains a mix of these metals, some lower quality stainless steel cookware may discharge a small amount of nickel into your food from the steel.
However, if you purchase high-quality cookware, these products contain a much smaller amount of cheap metal fillers like nickel.
High-quality stainless steel is designed to make products resistant to leaching or reactivity.
So, before your next camping trip, why not take a look at what’s in your chuck box and decide what you want to keep and what you should replace. While you are at it, drag it into your kitchen or out into the yard and give it a good cleaning and some TLC. A clean, organized, well-equipped camp kitchen will make for a more enjoyable camping experience and some good camp eats!