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couple cooking in kitchen

Is your Valentine's dinner harmful to your health?

Planning to mark Valentine’s Day with a romantic dinner at home? While you’re sure to set the perfect tone with the right mood music, soft lighting and bottle of bubbly, just be careful of too much sizzle.


That’s because recent research from a team of Texas Tech and Utah State University scientists shows that, under certain circumstances, frying food in a very hot, open pan can create potentially harmful oil droplets, which are spread into the air, contributing to indoor air pollution.


How come? The problem stems from frying food that contains water, which then interacts with hot oil. The combination creates a chain reaction causing tiny, potentially unhealthy particles to be thrown into the air. Specifically, if the oil is hot enough (over 150 degrees centigrade), any water that’s present vaporizes and creates microscopic oil droplets—particles that are small enough to be suspended in the atmosphere. They can then be inhaled by anyone nearby. The concern is greater in poorly-ventilated kitchens.


Interestingly, it takes little water for the phenomenon to occur. Researchers have found that a significant number of such droplets are released when even a tiny amount of water comes into contact with hot oil, while frying foods that contain a lot of water, such as chicken and vegetables, can accelerate the reaction. One potential area of concern: Chinese stir fried food, in which liquid is added to a searing-hot wok.


More investigation needs to be done to pinpoint the extent of the potential damage, say researchers, and scientists plan to uncover the extent to which this phenomenon can increase indoor air pollution, and whether better, or different types, of ventilation systems can help. Something that may help is a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, which can filter microscopic particles, such as the ones caused by frying food, from the air.