Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Melamine-Free Halloween!

Green Halloween Buys: Lake Champlain or Sweet Earth foil-wrapped milk and dark chocolate coins; Yummy Earth organic, individually wrapped lollipops, Sour Z treats or Gummy Worms; Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit snacks

Don’t Buy: Sherwood Pirate’s Gold Milk Chocolate Coins; White Rabbit “milk” candies; unlabeled candies of any kind, which may contain toxic melamine.

Buccaneers are big this Halloween, but make sure your pirate’s hoard doesn’t contain melamine, the chemical illegally added to Chinese dairy products, including infant formula, that has caused 54,000 cases of kidney stones and four infant deaths in that country.

First, it’s important not to panic: These illnesses are due to contaminated infant formula, and eating a candy or two doesn’t begin to approach a dangerous dose, according to nutritionist Marion Nestle in her column. However, Dr. Nestle points out, melamine is symptomatic of a broader consumer protection matter, namely, that we are entitled to know what’s in our food.

Next, here's what to look out for: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a recall of Sherwood Brands Pirate’s Gold Milk Chocolate Coins, sold in Costco and dollar and bulk stores. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not recalled Pirate’s Gold because, the agency says, the candies were not distributed in this country. However, on its website, Sherwood admits that it really can’t be certain where all its products end up. The FDA has recalled White Rabbit candies, but its tracking has been less than reassuring: The agency’s list of states where the candies were distributed does not include Connecticut, where White Rabbit toffees containing melamine were found this month by that state’s office of consumer protection.

As a vigilant Greenerpenny reader advises:

“Please make sure to check your children’s Halloween candy and DO NOT LET THEM EAT THE PIRATE COINS (you know, the ones wrapped in the shiny gold foil) and please let other parents know about this!”

Food origins, tracking, meaningful safety standards and enforcement are the broader issue, in this age of global markets. Melamine has just leapt beyond products containing milk, such as Chinese cookies found with high levels in Asian and Europe, (the FDA has also recalled Mr. Brown powdered "nondairy" creamer) to crop up in eggs from China. Dr. Nestle says, “For the moment, it’s best to just say no to imported foods and ingredients supposedly made with milk or soy powder, unless they are certified free of melamine and other toxic contaminants. But for this, it helps to know where food and ingredients come from.”

Organic certification, of course, means a product can’t contain melamine or other synthetic chemicall. Organic labels are transparent, that is, the ingredients are regulated each step of the way and can be traced back to the source. If your child brings home unlabeled candies, “trade” them for organic fruit (including individually boxed organic raisins) and chocolate treats, U.S.-made chocolate coins by reputable companies likeVermont’s Lake Champlain, and organic cookies shaped like cats, bats and autumn leaves from Dancing Deer. Find nearby retailers on company websites; or check at Whole Foods. Also, as much as possible, buy from local producers you know and trust. Check your yellow pages or local “green” pages or food magazines, for candymakers near you; many independent bakeries also make confections, including chocolates and fruit gels. Type in your zip code at Sustainable Table and zoom into your local food network.

More treats:

Fairly traded, foil-wrapped mint-chocolate bits at Kate's Caring Gifts

Sweet Earth Very Scary organic milk or dark chocolate colorful wrapped "coins," skulls, witches' hats, bats

Endangered Species small wrapped chocolate bars and creepy crawly bug bites (10%) of profits go to species protection

Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks (vegan)

Yummy Earth individually-wrapped soft and hard candies.

Remember...screen, then have a screaming good time!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Best green lipsticks

Perfect Stocking and Pocket Stuffers for Skiers, Surfers,Sunners: Phthalate-free Lip Balms

To keep from licking hormone-disrupters off your winter-cracked lips, choose from this plethora of phthalate-free products, all of which use essential plant oils rather than synthetic "fragrance."
THE BODY SHOP Hemp Lip ProtectorAt a recent Jets game (remember the last one they won?), a green guy said it saved his lips from cold wind splice and the green tube showed off his team spirit. Body Shop is a CSC signatory. $8.
BURTS BEES Beeswax Balms, Lip Shimmers The quickest of comforters: Burt's clear balm (Natural Products Association certified) and new Rescue Lip Balm, which blocks UV rays with natural titanium dioxide. Burt's has also signed the CSC pledge. $3-5.
DR BRONNER’S Lip Balm This USDA certified organic balm comes in "naked," lemon/lime and ginger phthalate-free flavors. Yum. A CSC signatory. $2.99
DR. HAUSCHKA Lip Care Stick or Balm One of our top faves. Moisturizes with jojoba wax and carrot and rosehip extracts; $12.95 or $14.50.
OLA HAWAII Tropical Melody Lip Balms (pictured) The islands in winter! Banana, coconut/lemongrass, liliko'i (passion fruit) and mango aromas will warm your lips and hearts. We can't get enough of 'em. $6.
ORIGINS Lip Balm Their USDA certified organic stick is pure salve-ation. Completely odorless and taste-free, slicks on effortlessly.WELEDA Everon Lip BalmWith shea butter, vanilla and rose. Cheap, creamy, and long-lasting. $3.50-4.99.

Natural parchment paper

Our neighbor Chef Maurizio never uses silicone bakeware because, he says, "It's just plastic, really, and no matter how much I wash it, it always has this greasy feel." Instead, Maurizio uses parchment paper to keep his dough from sticking. But buyer beware: Conventional parchment papers are treated with silicone! Here are some greener choices:

*All-vegetable parchment paper. This is the kind of simple paper butter comes wrapped in, but it can be heated without burning up to 450 degrees F. I just made a nice pear tart on top of a round of Regency all-vegetable parchment paper laid on a stainless steel cookie sheet (greased with butter). Bought it at Whole Foods for $1.77 a roll. The tart baked at 375 degrees, and the pears and sugar got the perfect caramel patina, but the paper emerged fresh enough to be reused after brown edges were trimmed off (see below for how).

*Maurizio recommends Beyond Gourmet Unbleached Parchment Paper: It's certified by the reputable non-profit Green Seal of approval because it's made without environmentally destructive chlorine bleaching, which releases cancer-causing dioxins into waterways. And it is Star-K certified kosher. It can also be bought at Whole Foods.

* Patapar all-vegetable parchment papers are kosher-certified. Note: While the kosher kashrus standards give top ratings to genuine vegetable parchment paper and do not approve of quilon, a DuPont coating used on some parchment papers, kashrus does not formally object to silicone coatings. If You Care unbleached parchment paper is advertised as quilon-free.

Another use (or reuse) for parchment paper: Rewrap cheese in it, after taking off the PVC (and phthalate-leaching) deli wrap most supermarket cheeses are sold in. Toxic chemicals leach most readily from fatty foods like cheese, or when heated (hence never microwave food in plastic).

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Green nonstick cookware choices

We recently did a blog on the nasty chemicals—PFOA and PTFE, specifically, linked to thyroid disruption and cancer—found in conventional nonstick cookware and in the bodies of the general American population. Many of our readers weighed in with questions and comments of their own, which we address here.

Thermolon Update

We previously stated that silicone cookware and therefore the new GreenPan, which contains silicone, have additional ingredients that aren’t listed on the label, which always makes us a little nervous. Since then, we’ve found out more. GreenPan is made of oxygen, silicone, carbon, aluminum, and titanium. A representative from the company that invented Thermolon, the nonstick coating on GreenPans, told us: “Silicone (Si) is not on the list of ingredients of Thermolon. Instead, silicone is in combination with other elements to form a harmless ceramic material…”

O.K., whatever. At least ceramic coatings generally don’t evaporate or leach. More importantly, GreenPan promises that its ceramics are PFOA- and PTFE-free; the company commissioned a few third-party studies, two from universities in both Hong Kong and Europe, which confirmed their coating’s lack of PFOA or PTFE. One study said that the GreenPan also consumes less energy and produces less carbon in the production process than conventional nonstick cookware.

So while we’d always prefer to see results of independent third-party tests (such as those by Consumer Reports, Environmental Working Group or certifiers such as Green Seal or Cradle to Cradle), rather than tests a company has paid for themselves, we think GreenPan is clearly a safer and greener alternative to conventional nonstick coatings.

What about other cookware technology touted as PFOA-free?

This can be greenwashing. Because consumers are now aware that PFOA is a carcinogen and is present in their pans, companies are scrambling to market new non-PFOA cookware. But here’s the question: what’s replacing the PFOA?

According to the Environmental Working Group's extensive report on PFOA replacements, the Food and Drug Administration approved eight new fluorochemicals between 2005 and 2007 intended to replace PFOA-based food packaging and pans. But there was no third-party certification or public assessment of the safety of these new chemicals. At least one—perfluorohexanoic acid (also called PFHxA or C6)—is known to be persistent in the environment, cross over from a mother to her unborn fetus, and may be more toxic to aquatic organisms than PFOA.

The greenwashing of the cookware industry is intense. According to our source at GreenPan, many companies are coating their nonstick pans with PTFE, but then adding small ceramic particles. They tout their products as PFOA-free, ceramic-coated, which sounds safe to consumers worried about toxics in their cookware, when in reality they may be no better than the old PFOA-coated models.

I have Emerilware Hard Anodized Pans and their website says they don’t used PFOAs to make the nonstick. Is there another toxic chemical they use instead?

Anodized pans are sometimes listed separately from the nonstick products on cookware websites, leading one to believe that anodized pans are different and perhaps better than conventional nonstick cookware. We were unable to contact the makers of Emerilware, so we called the popular cookware company Calphalon and inquired about their anodized pans. They confirmed that either PFOA or PTFE is present in the coating. So anodized pans don’t seem to be a safe alternative to conventional nonstick.

Safer Cookware Alternatives

Lodge Iron cast iron cookware: They come preseasoned now!

Le Creuset enamel cookware:

Calphalon stainless steel:

Crate & Barrel’s Mario Batali enamel:


Previous GreenerPenny blog:

EPA PFOA warnings:

PFOA in general population:

Environmental Working Group’s report:

By Island Girl

Thank you. Please keep your questions and comments coming, and tell your friends to visit

Friday, October 3, 2008

Are nonstick pans safe?

In this economy, we’re all motivated to save money and eat healthier by cooking more at home. And a new pot or pan can be a nice motivator. But we feel distinctly unmotivated by non-stick cookware manufactured with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8 in industry terms), which is used to make the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating that is so magically unstickable. Problem is, the chemicals stick to us. And, as the Environmental Working Group reports, the EPA has classified PFOA as a "likely human carcinogen."

PFOA is found in all sorts of modern goods, from cookware to water-repellant fabrics. And it’s also in the bloodstreams of 95 percent of the U.S. population. The chemical has been linked to cancer and birth defects in laboratory animals according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is known to linger and accumulate in living tissues and the environment. DuPont, the second largest US chemical company and manufacturer of Teflon, went to court with the EPA in 2004 when the Agency claimed that DuPont found traces of PFOA in their workers’ bodies and in the municipal water supplies of West Virginia and Ohio as early as 1981 but never reported it. As a result, DuPont agreed to comply with the EPA’s order to phase out 95 percent of PFOA in its products by 2015.

However, the official stance of the EPA is that nonstick cookware is just fine: Wherever we’re getting PFOA in our blood from, they say it’s not from pots and pans. Tests done by Consumer Reports agree that very little PFOA is released by nonstick cookware, though they do recommend using ventilation while cooking with it, tossing out old, flaking nonstick pans, and never placing empty nonstick pots and pans over very high heat (over 500 degrees Fahrenheit).
So, wait? PFOA is bad and DuPont is phasing it out, but it’s still okay to cook with it? Sounds questionable to us, too. How about some nice, safe, environmental alternatives?

Cast Iron cookware that has been seasoned, or coated and baked with vegetable oil, creates a natural nonstick cooking surface with even heating, temperature retention, and durability. Lodge Cast Iron, a family owned and operated company in Tennessee, has been making cookware for over 100 years.

Lodge also makes enameled cast iron cookware; we find that enamel works as well as, and is certainly more durable than, a chemical nonstick surface such as Teflon or Silverstone.

We love our Le Creuset grill pan, as well as the company’s classic enamel-lined pots and pans.

Glass cookware can’t be used with direct heat, so stovetop cooking is out, but brands such as Pyrex are perfect for baking. Tempered glass bakeware inexpensive to buy, easy to manufacture, and easy to recycle if it breaks.

In addition to ceramic, a new ovenproof product is colorful plastic silicone bakeware, the non-PFOA nonstick stuff that’s filling the Teflon niche. Silicone is made primarily from harmless sand and oxygen, but silicone ware also contains carbon, aluminum and titanium, and thus, unlike glass, isn’t easily recycled at the end of its life. While, based on what we currently know, it’s safer than a PFOA nonstick surface, it’s not the greenest option available.

Our advice: if you’re dedicated to the art of cooking, splurge for glass, ceramic, uncoated stainless steel and cast iron. All guaranteed PFOA-free.

By Island Girl

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