There’s something particularly embarrassing about burning toast. After all, it’s meant to be like the training wheels of cooking—a simple task that’s nearly impossible to stuff up. Times that embarrassment by ten if you also happen to set the fire alarm off in the process. But if you’re someone goes ahead and eats your burnt toast anyway, your pride might not be the worst thing you’re swallowing.
According to new research from the University of Texas, eating overdone toast can expose you to more pollution than standing at a busy intersection. To conduct the research, the scientists created a replica of a typical three-bedroom home with dozens of monitors to determine how air quality changed during everyday activities such as cooking and cleaning. However, the biggest shock from the study was just how toxic the fumes created from the burnt toast were.
Why is burnt toast bad for your health?
“When you make toast, the heating element starts warming up the debris and gunk in the toaster which includes oils,” researcher Marina Vance explains. “Add that to the bread itself – it’s going to emit a range of things. We found ethanol, a by-product of yeast. If there’s tiny pieces of bread touching the heating element you can see the smoke, maybe from crumbs at the bottom of the toaster – they will all make a lot of particles. It led to what would be considered ‘very unhealthy’ air pollution levels if compared to outdoor air quality standards.”
Research shows that long-term exposure to pollutants can lead to a range of health issues, including decreased lung function, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and increased risk of cancer. So, as sad as guilty as you may feel for throwing out your blackened bread, it’s probably not worth the risk to your health.
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It’s worth noting that one person’s ‘perfectly well-done toast’ is another’s ‘whoa, that used to be bread!?’ So, what constitutes dangerously overdone toast, exactly? Well, according to the World Health Organisation, you should go for gold—and nothing more. That’s to say, golden brown should be the absolute limit. They recommend that air should contain no more than 25 micrograms of fine particulates at any given time. When bread is lightly toasted, particulates rise to 300 to 400 micrograms per cubic metre. But once this turns dark brown, this skyrockets 3,000-4,000 micrograms per cubic metre, which begins to pose a risk.
If you’re looking to nix your toaster completely, you could look at alternative methods of cooking it like an air fryer or oven.