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Are Smoked Foods Harmful


Are Smoked Foods Harmful to Your Health?

Smoking is the process of flavouring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to the smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials, most often wood. Meats and fish are the most common smoked foods, though cheeses, vegetables, and ingredients used to make beverages such as Scotch whiskey and teas are also smoked.

Wood has a highly complex molecular composition and contains wood smoke compounds that actually act as preservatives. Phenol and other phenolic compounds in wood smoke are both antioxidants, which slow rancidity of animal fats and antimicrobials, which slow bacterial growth. Other antimicrobials in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other organic acids, which give wood smoke a low pH - about 2.5. However, some of these compounds are toxic to people and may have health affects for specific cooking applications. The compounds best demonstrated to have long-term health consequences are the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens (i.e. substance that can cause cancer).

PAHs are a group of approximately 10,000 compounds found in the environment, most resulting from incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials like oil, wood, garbage or coal. Automobile exhaust, industrial emissions, smoke from burning wood, charcoal and tobacco contain high levels of PAHs. Exposure to PAHs can occur via breathing air containing PAHs (asphalt production plants, municipal trash incineration facilities, cigarette smoke, vehicle exhausts, asphalt roads, etc.); eating grilled or charred meats, contaminated cereals, flour, bread, vegetables, fruits, meats, and processed or pickled foods; drinking contaminated water or cow’s milk; and/or via skin absorption from handling contaminated soil, bathing in contaminated water, and/or from low level absorption when using medicated skin creams or shampoo containing PAHs.

The most recent studies to examine PAHs in smoked fish, shellfish, charbroiled meats, and cured meats, revealed very low levels of PAHs that
DO NOT pose any long-term health risk.

So what does all this mean when considering cooking or purchasing smokehouse foods? First, Blue Sage Gourmet Eatery’s smoked foods are cooked in a convection-style smoker whereby the smoke doesn’t actually remain in the cooker indefinitely but rather is re-circulated and vented through the cooking chamber. This equipment also uses a electronic time and temperature control with heat supplied from two heating elements. Even the wood box is electronically heated! Secondly, smoked foods are always cooked at lower temperatures for longer periods of time, thus, there is no opportunity to stimulate the level of PAHs which commonly occurs when cooking meats at high temperatures. Thirdly, PAH absorption is slowed when foods containing these compounds are swallowed. Although PAHs can enter all the tissues of your body that contain fat, they do not
tend to be stored in the body for a long time. Most PAHs that enter the body leave within a few days, primarily in the feces and urine.

Blue Sage Gourmet Eatery also has additional benefits to your health with its smoked food operation. This location uses Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products exclusively for the cooking of the smoked foods. This wood is harvested only from natural forest lands and is manufactured from 100% bark-free heartwood (the center core or “filet” of a tree which is considered the purest and moistest section). These woods are known for their exceptional flavoring and clean burn time because they are a forest product that is free of bark, resin, and chemical/toxins. At the manufacturing level, these woods are cut to size but never treated with a preservative or heat treatment process. Blue Sage Gourmet Eatery currently uses Hickory, Wild Cherry, and Sugar Maple in the wood recipes for the various smoked foods, with each wood imparting a unique flavour to the foods. The wood is delivered fresh every six to ten weeks and is maintained at a recommended hydration level to ensure it is appropriate for smoking and will not produce higher cooking temperatures (many barbecue restaurants use bark-on, seasoned firewood that can result in tainted flavouring and temperature flare-ups, which puts the consumer at greater risk for carcinogen ingestion).

When compared with foods cooked using gas or gas-assisted equipment, smoked foods are, by far, a healthier alternative. Gas contains smelly sulfur chemicals called mercaptans. Industry commonly uses mercaptans for pharmaceuticals, jet fuel, livestock feed additives, and chemical plants. This additive reveals itself often in the foods cooked over gas grills. Additionally, the hot heat of a grill stimulates the development of heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, which are created when amino acids and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react to the high temperatures of grilling. The smoke created by the fat from meat drippings onto the coals or grill diffuser result in smoke curls around the food, thus, producing benzo(a)pyrene (a specific PAH compound).

In 1999, the National Cancer Institute conducted a study on the eating habits of cancer patients and found that eating a daily average of 10 grams of well-done or very well-done meat cooked at high temperatures (this refers to grilled and seared foods, not smoked foods which are cooked at low temperatures) increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 85 percent. Another study in 2001 found levels of benzo[a]pyrene to be significantly higher in foods that were cooked well-done on the barbecue (again, no reference to smoked foods), particularly steaks, chicken with skin, and hamburgers. However, the foods themselves are not necessarily carcinogenic even if they contain trace amounts of carcinogens, because the gastrointestinal tract protects itself against cancers by shedding its outer layer continuously. Plus, detoxification enzymes are present for protection from food-borne toxins, therefore, small amounts of benzo[a]pyrene are metabolized by gut enzymes prior to being passed on to the blood.

Blue Sage Gourmet Eatery is proud to offer you smoked products that are cooked over an all-natural wood product, in a temperature controlled cooker, that ensures a safe, premium flavoured food product!


Adamson RH, Thorgeirsson UP. Carcinogens in foods: Heterocyclic amines and cancer and heart disease. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 1995; 369:211-220.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Division of Toxicology, 1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-32, Atlanta, GA 30333 Phone: 1-888-422-8737

Bjeldanes LF, Morris MM, Felton JS, et al. Mutagens from the cooking of food. II. Survey by Ames/Salmonella test of mutagen formation in the major protein-rich foods of the American diet. Food and Chemical Toxicology 1982; 20(4):357-363.

Luch, A. (2005) The Carcinogenic Effects of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, London: Imperial College Press, ISBN 1-86094-417-5.

Muscat JE, Wynder EL. The consumption of well-done meat and the risk of colorectal cancer.
American Journal of Public Health 1994; 84(5):856-858.

This information was compiled specifically for Blue Sage Gourmet Eatery by Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of:

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