For many years it was assumed that eating foods that that had been cooked in aluminum frying pans was dangerous to your health. Scientists had proven data showing that dangerous chemicals leached into the food as the aluminum was heated to a high temperature on the stove. Similar dangers also existed when cooking with stainless steel, non-stick pans, and cast iron. So, how much of this is true in 2011 and is it safe to cook with metal pots and pans?
Aluminum cookware was first manufactured in 1892 by the Pittsburgh Reduction Co., later known as ALCOA It gained popularity with housewives and was widely used by the 1960’s. Concerns about cooking with these pans stemmed from the fact that aluminum is highly reactive. Cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes or tomato sauce can cause leaching. The food then actually absorbs the metal from the pot or pan, which means a person will be swallowing aluminum particles with their food.
But, how much consumption is too much? Aluminum is almost impossible to avoid in the environment as it can be found in our air and water. It is also found in medicines, anti-perspirants and, of course, in cookware. People consume up to 50 mg of it per day, and 3-6mg more when eating foods cooked in aluminum pans. Excessive consumption has been linked to kidney problems, anemia, calcium deficiency, MS and Alzheimer’s disease.
Stainless steel, discovered around 1913, made very desirable cookware. It is made by combining carbon steel with chromium. The chromium gives this steel its stainless, corrosion resisting properties, easy cleaning ability and attractive shine. However, in order to make the cookware distribute heat evenly, nickel must be added to the steel and this can have an adverse effect on people with nickel allergies,
Another precaution with stainless steel involves cleaning techniques. Using steel wool is discouraged as metal particles can be left behind which then turn into rust. Corrosive cleaning agents may leave harmful residue if not thoroughly rinsed. And, like aluminum, some nickel leaching may occur when cooking acidic foods, especially in pans with scratches and pitting. This results in increasing a person’s nickel consumption.
Leaching, rust and bacteria are the culprits with non-stick coated aluminum pans and cast iron, as well. When the non-stick coating is scratched, aluminum can leach through, as well as the plastic coating. Bacteria can grow in the scratched surface. When cast iron is allowed to rust, it becomes dangerous if the rust gets into food.
So, is the answer ‘Get rid of all metal cookware-now!’? Not necessarily. The FDA has published current guidelines for safety levels of metal consumption and toxicity. The average person will consume much less aluminum and nickel than the amount considered dangerous. That being said, there are some safety tips and common sense practices to follow if you want to use metal cookware:
—Avoid cooking acidic foods in aluminum,
—Switch to anodized aluminum cookware, which has a coating that makes it non-reactive, non-porous, and virtually scratch resistant,
—Get rid of scratched or pitted cookware, especially non-stick coated,
—Avoid stainless steel if you are allergic to nickel,
—Use appropriate cleaning and care methods for aluminum, stainless steel, non-stick coated pans and cast iron,
—Do your own research and use precautions if you are concerned about Alzheimer’s or other diseases that might be exacerbated by excess metal consumption.
In conclusion, the answer to the question, “Is it safe to use metal cookware?” is “Yes.” Treat all cookware properly, use safety precautions, store it carefully and follow manufacturers’ directions. Finally, throw it away if it becomes damaged.