Cooks and kitchen staff run a greater risk of lung cancer than other groups. But it is not due to poor air quality in restaurant kitchens – smoking is the culprit. This has been proved by studies carried out at Karolinska Institutet.
In three separate studies, the work environment in the catering industry was examined. We have looked at the risks of kitchen staff contracting lung cancer and heart attacks and made measurements of air pollution in different kitchen environments.
“Kitchen staff have a higher risk of lung cancer and one hypothesis is the poor air quality in restaurant kitchens. However, our study does not support that. When we took staff smoking habits into account, the elevated risk disappeared,” says Marie Lewné, occupational hygienist at Karolinska Institutet involved in the study.
Hundreds of measurements
The presence of particles and polyaromatic hydrocarbons was examined by taking measurements. In fact, hundreds of measurements were made in kitchens, à la carte restaurants, Asian restaurants and fast food kitchens.
“The highest air pollution we found was in Asian cuisine where woks are often used, but the levels were not
alarmingly high. Surprisingly, the lowest levels were found in fast food chains,” says Marie Lewné.
During the study, cooks and other kitchen staff who participated had an air filter and a pump attached to their shoulders, right next to their mouth, when measurements were taken. By weighing the filters before and after use, scientists learned how much pollution was in the air. “This is the first time the air in restaurant kitchens has been analyzed in Sweden,” says Marie Lewné.
“What we would like to do now is to continue and analyze the particles we gathered to find out exactly what they contain.”
According to previous studies, female cooks, kitchen and catering assistants and waiters have an increased risk of heart attacks. The part of the current study that relates specifically to heart attacks is not completely clear at the time of writing , but so far there is no indication that these are a result of poor kitchen air, according to the researchers.