Saucepan outgasses rotten, burning plastic smell - what gives? (Stumped. Please help.)

by 512 · January 29, 2014 6:18 AM

In a recent attempt to isolate variables in my food preparation which are making me feel bad, I noticed a strong "rubber" taste in my food last night.

(Background : Over the past few months of being Paleo, I have been feeling ill eating the cleanest of foods and suspect my cooking situation of lacking the proper tools.

My cooktop (small, portable induction with only 6, not-fine-enough temperature settings) and cookware (saucepot, stockpot, cast iron which is improperly seasoned) would - I thought - cause the food to get too hot and denature oils, etc.

I began low-temp setting cooking a month or two ago to avoid food sticking or burning to the bottom of my un-ideal saucepan I use for pan-frying.

Something about my food since switching to this induction stove has always tasted odd and made me feel ill, as if I'd just consumed some chemical or denatured substance... A bit like burnt plastic.

(This has been causing massive gut/mental clarity/feeling healthy ongoingly problems.)

I've recently begun attempting to isolate variables.

The dish had been: eggplant, ghee, Brussels sprouts, portabella mushroom, and volcanic Hawaiian salt.

The first batch tasted fine, but the second batch (cooked with lid on & some of the juices/ghee of the first batch) tasted strongly like cooked rubber + eggplant, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts.

Thinking I had burned or oxidized or otherwise denatured the ghee, I went to bed with a cloudy headache and nausea + stomachache.

My saucepan is stainless steel.

However, this morning, when making pastured chicken liver & ghee, the same "rubber"/"burning plastic" smell returned.

Again, the first batch was tasty and seemed fine, but there was a faint hint of the almost-sulphuric smell when I added the volcanic sea salt after cooking.

So, I washed out the saucepan with Seventh generation dish soap & cold tap water. (Unfiltered. Contains some sort of chlorine.)

I dried some remaining water spots on the cooktop, and the empty saucepan began outgassing the nauseous smell again.

Thinking it might be the chlorine, I washed it out with a Pur mineralized water filter (unsure which minerals are added, but it claims to filter 99%+ of chlorine and it's byproducts.

I wiped it dry, then put it on the stove at lowest heat. After ~30 seconds, I gave the pot a sniff. It still smelled like burnt rubber.

The only other variables I can think of are a cold, unfiltered water + Seventh Generation dish soap wash prior to both (if I'm recalling correctly; at least the chicken liver) first batches.

Seventh Generation Dish Soap (ingredients listing): Water, lauryl sulfate, lauramine oxide, glycerin, caprylyl/myristyl glucloside, citric acid, magnesium chloride, methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone. No phosphates.

I will attempt to clean it with white vinegar (and no added water) now but am really stumped.

Was something burned into the metal bottom/sides long ago? Surely not - it appears very shiny and clean.

Was it soap residue? Somethkng in the water both times?

The mineral water has made me feel bad before (It has an odd taste and likely needs to be exchanged for a much better one) but not nauseous.

Any help would be much appreciated, as I'm now rather scared of my cookware and its potential to cause all sorts of ill reactions.

(as well as my wash water and filtered water - which leaves bottled water and no cooking -- rather untenable.)

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8 Replies

1207 · September 07, 2013 at 12:44 AM

You are freaking out. Calm down. Mineral water is making you sick? You smell a weird smell in your food and you get brain fog and a gut reaction from it? You are in some kind of panic mode where you are micro-anazlyzing everything. Do you have OCD? Do you have other areas of your life where this kind of narrowing of focus happens? Stainless steel is a good, safe cookware. Food cooks. Food browns. It will not hurt you. YOU, however, can hurt yourself if you go overboard with this kind of thinking. Step away from the stove. Give over your control of your food for a little while. Eat a meal prepared by someone else. Relax.

3621 · August 28, 2013 3:43 AM

overcooked brussels sprouts smell sulfurous. sulfurous smells are seldomly less than stubborn to scour from surfaces (think sauerkraut.. and onions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, etc).

also, i'm going to second the advice not to heat empty pans, question your ghee source, and definitely relax a little. you're going a little nutters, but i understand. i've had a similar bafflement about a hot pan. step back a second; you can handle this. you are even able to even handle a little toxicity if it's there. our bodies are built to detox (until they're too damamged..). try baking soda on the pan if it actually continues to taint the taste of your food.

fwiw, i think it's better to reach out like you did and risk looking silly than to simmer alone in ocd anxiety. no shame! good luck.

15380 · August 26, 2013 4:57 PM

My answer is: Le Creuset. I have never found anything better than that.

Also, there is a book, it is called Home Safe Home. It says that stainless steel cannot be used after it is corroded, something leaches into food, I forgot what it was. You might get sick if you use that pot again.

EDITED: damaged stainless steel is not safe.



40632 · August 26, 2013 4:27 PM

Two things:

1) You have crappy ghee.

2) Don't heat pans with nothing in them.

0 · January 29, 2014 6:18 AM

I totally believe you. I have a cheap chinese-made pot that we got as a gift years ago. We have used it for about seven years for little tasks and I just found that part of the metal in the base of the pot now produces a disgusting burning rubber smell that gets worse when heated. It's an old "tools of the trade gourmet belgique" pot. The stainless steel inside the pot seems fine, but the part of cheaper metal around the base is exposed a bit on the exterior of the pot and that exposed metal has a terrible chemical smell. The smell is somewhere between burning rubber and cheap plastic and stagnant water. I've done the same thing - cleaned this thing like crazy but it still produces this smell and it's clearly gotten worse. We have actually used this pot for years and there's *no way* that I would not have noticed this if it was offgassing this much before.

There's a lot of different kinds of steel in the world. Some of it you can cook with, and some like galvanized steel you don't want to heat anywhere near food cause it'll offgas some pretty evil stuff. I think these chinese pots have just broken these old rules a bit. Throw that pot away. Or better yet, hit it with a sledgehammer a few times and then throw it away so nobody else is tempted to use it.

0 · December 12, 2013 1:35 AM


First to all those answers who says she's nuts or it's in her head and to chill. It's not! I have a stainless steel set of pots and pans, it was a really good set. Over the years I've had the handles replaced. For some reason one pot smells of plastic every time I use it. Was thinking at first I had the heat to high and was burning the handle, but have since tried again and it still smelled even on a low heat and that is the only kettle that smells like that! It stinks so bad it's nauseating. I have checked the bottom and sides thinking maybe some piece of plastic wrap or baggy or something got stuck to it and melted. But nothing. Can't figure out where the smell is coming from, but it's not in my head, it is real, someone visiting me smelled it too. And why only that kettle? This happens even if just boil water, no food involved, no bad ghee. There is no visible sign of erosion, but I will have to look into that now.

0 · November 22, 2013 at 12:34 PM

The safest cookware is one that's made from pure clay. People have cooked in it for thousands of years (and contrary to popular beliefs or propaganda here is the west, many of our ancestors have lived very healthy and long; longer than we are taught to believe) And i mean all-natural clay not the manufactured version like ceramic or porcelain. Preferably choose unglazed ones (the ones without any paint). They are the safest because they are inert --non-reactive. It’s a different way of cooking and is very rewarding. I got mine from MEC


30 · August 28, 2013 4:20 AM

I agree with Ivy, you are having mental issues with foods atm. I had the same problems in the start of paleo, where I could not stand the smell of anything, and even newspapers at work smelled like fish (?)

Either it was stomach yeast fighting the new diet or it was all mental. It went over after a month or so for me. I had to not eat eggs in this period though, as I would feel sick by just thinking of making them. Love and eat plenty of eggs today :)

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