The safety of your cookware is important to your health and that of your family.
Cooking with unsafe cookware can lead to food poisoning, which can cause vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. What's more, if you're pregnant or have an immune deficiency it could be dangerous for you as well.
In this article, we'll discuss the risks of using different types of cookware and what you can do to select a safe alternative – let's get started.
Although you'll find virtually every type of cookware in the market today, they can be divided into general categories or groups.
Cast iron (and enameled cast iron)
This is a good choice because it is highly durable and lasts for years. If you use cast iron pots and pans, cook over medium to low heat and make sure that you don't place them on open flames.
When buying enameled cast iron cookware, buy only those with a porcelain-enamel coating instead of the cheaper varieties that use a lead-based white coat. Because the coating is what makes it non-stick, you can use metal utensils with porcelain-enameled cast-iron cookware. They are also easy to clean and do not require special care.
One of their drawbacks is that they are heavy, so if you don't have space in your kitchen cabinets or countertops, you may want to avoid them.
Stainless steel and aluminum
Stainless steel and aluminum cookware are quite popular because of their shiny appearance. They are also easy to clean and have a good heat transfer feature. But this is where the advantages end, as they are not good choices for cooking.
Stainless steel has a higher thermal conductivity than cast iron or copper but some stainless steel varieties have lower quality standards, which can make them unsafe options for cookware. You should avoid those with low-quality stainless steel bases and lids that do not completely seal in heat (due to faulty construction). Some cheaper varieties even contain low levels of chromium, which might cause cancer. This kind of stainless steel can also leach heavy metals into your food cooked at high temperatures with acidic ingredients like tomatoes or wine.
Moving on, let’s look at stainless steel and its differences to non-stick cookware.
Nonstick cookware is popular because of its non-stick properties. You can fry eggs and sauté other foods without them sticking to the pan, making it a time-saver in the kitchen.
But there are some issues with nonstick surfaces (such as Teflon) that you should be aware of. In fact, the question of whether nonstick is safe comes up a lot.
The truth is that the coating could peel off and get into your food when heated regularly over high heat – which means that the nonstick surface becomes too thin due to excessive use. Repeated overheating of these pans also leads to fumes and releases toxic particles, which may cause lung damage if inhaled; this risk is higher for people who already have respiratory problems.
There is some concern over the safety of food cooked in copper pots and pans because this type of metal can interact with acidic foods like tomatoes. The acid may oxidize the cooking surface, leading to leaching into your food.
However, there are companies that have introduced a new non-toxic product that “seals” copper to prevent any interaction between it and acidic ingredients. So far, no health problems have been linked to using this type of cookware.
Glass and ceramic.
Neither of these is safe materials for cookware because they can easily shatter or break – no matter how careful you are. For this reason, glass and ceramic pots and pans should not be considered a good option.
They are not durable and have to be treated with care, so you should store them inside cupboards or other hard-to-reach places.
The best types of cookware
We recommend a safety-first approach when selecting a pan for cooking, especially if it will be used regularly. If you have cast iron pots with enameled coatings that were made by leading manufacturers that is a good choice.
The safest option is to use stainless steel, cast iron, or copper cookware in good condition with a strong enameled coating – provided you do not overheat them at high temperatures and also take care of their maintenance routine properly (i.e., avoid scratching the surfaces as they can chip off from rough treatment).
How to clean your new cookware before first use
Even if you have purchased high-quality cookware, make sure you clean it thoroughly before cooking with it for the first time. The manufacturer should provide instructions on how to do this as part of the set. It is often recommended that you hand wash your pots and pans (which will also prolong their lifespan).
If they are dishwasher-safe, use a gentle cycle with warm water and mild detergent or non abrasive soap. Dry them immediately when washing — don't allow them to air dry. But don't worry about food sticking onto the surface; when cooking later – put in only enough oil or butter to cover its base.
How to keep your cookware safe after using it:
If properly maintained, your cookware can last a lifetime. Here are some tips for maintaining it properly regularly:
The best way to avoid scratches is by using non abrasive soaps and dishwashing liquids in warm water when cleaning. Make sure that all food debris or grease residue is washed away. Also, ensure that all of the soap is removed before rinsing off the cookware as well. Dry thoroughly and set aside until ready to use again.
Avoid washing with other pots or pans because they may damage the surface coating on your cookware. If there's stuck-on food on them after washing – try soaking them in hot water and scrubbing gently with a plastic scouring pad (not stainless steel or copper.).
If you have more than one nonstick pan – only use high-quality cookware cleaners on them. Never use metal pads, abrasive materials, or harsh chemicals to clean your cookware as they may damage the surface coating and cause it to lose its effectiveness.
Also, do not soak the pots and pans for extended periods because this will damage their enamel coating over time.
Use wooden or silicone spoons when stirring food on the stovetop to prevent scratches, as well as nonmetallic spatulas when removing food from frying pans. If you are using reactive utensils such as metallic spoons, spatulas or tongs avoid using them with your nonstick cookware.
If your coated cookware is stained – you can try scrubbing the marks off with baking soda and water or using a proprietary cleaner to remove any stubborn stains.
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when seasoning a new piece of cast-iron cookware and be sure to season it before first use. The same goes for pre-seasoned cast iron cookware; after washing, dry thoroughly (which can take hours) before re-applying oil or melted fat to maintain the protective coating on the surface. These pieces should also be reseasoned every time you wash them.
Always set aside a pan just for cooking acidic foods so they do not react with other pans in your kitchen if they have been coated in an enamel finish.
What are the risks when cooking in aluminum, porcelain-coated cast-iron, or nonstick surfaces?
Often referred to as “Teflon,” these types of pots and pans have very thin plastic coatings that are resistant to oil, grease, and other foods. However, they scratch easily resulting in particles left on your cookware which can release hazardous chemicals into your food. Some medical experts have determined that ingesting even small amounts of Teflon over time may result in liver damage or kidney disease – so it's better not to take chances.
How to avoid harmful fumes from non stick surfaces
To reduce the health risks associated with cooking on nonstick surfaces, it's best to avoid overheating your cookware. Always use low or medium heat when cooking and never allow a pan to run as empty while you are preheating it for the next step in your recipe (e.g. adding oil). If food starts sticking – don't keep cooking. Simply remove it from the flame and let it cool off, then wipe out the residue with soap and water. Also, remember that using high-temperature heat will cause Teflon coatings to break down quicker – so try not to overheat them in the first place.
The same goes for cast iron pots and pans: Never use metal utensils on them or they will scratch the surface and cause harmful metal pieces to be left behind in the food. Reduce your cooking temperature if a pan is producing smoke, food is burning or sticking to the surface.
Also, remember that porcelain-coated cast iron cookware with enameled finishes is not recommended for boiling acidic foods because this can strip away the protective finish. To maintain your cast iron pots and pans in good condition, always dry thoroughly after washing and never season until completely dry.
What about other materials?
When it comes to using aluminum-based metals – such as aluminum foil, baking sheets, cookie sheets, try to limit their use.
To reduce your risk of exposure – use glass, ceramic, or other items made from materials that do not leach harmful chemicals into food.
There are few metal pots and pans available without nonstick coatings that can damage your health. Some examples include stainless steel with an aluminum core (which is less likely to scratch than the ones without this type of core), cast iron (without a non-stick coating), and copper-bottomed pieces.
On the flip side, keep in mind that If these pots and pans are properly cared for they will last for many years to come. After washing – dry thoroughly then apply a thin layer of oil or melted fat before storing them away in a cabinet.
Final thoughts on the safest cookware for your health
In conclusion, it's better to be safe than sorry. By following a few simple guidelines you'll easily find and use the safest cookware for your health.
When it comes down to which pots and pans are best for you – choose those that will last (such as stainless steel with an aluminum core), are least likely to scratch or break, and won't give toxic fumes off into the foods you eat.
Finally, giving some time to buying kitchen accessories (including a great Misen pan) is also important when it comes to safe cookware.