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Following is a review of materials in popular use in cookware today.
This review may serve as a guide to safe cooking.
More than half (52 percent) of all cookware sold today is made of
aluminum. But most of these aluminum pots and pans are coated with
nonstick finishes or treated using a process that alters and hardens
the structure of the metal. Researchers still are investigating the
connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease. But according to
Creighton Phelps, Ph.D., director of medical and scientific affairs at
the Alzheimer's Association, much recent data supports the theory that
brains already damaged by Alzheimer's disease may permit entry of
abnormally high levels of aluminum. In other words, Aluminum does not
appear cause Alzheimer's disease, but people with Alzheimer's tend
concentrate and store aluminum.
As FDA and researchers point out, aluminum is ubiquitous. It is the
third most abundant element in the earth's crust (after oxygen and
silicon). It is in air, water and soil, and ultimately in the plants
and animals we eat.
Many over-the-counter medicines also contain aluminum. According to the
Aluminum Association, one antacid tablet can contain 50 milligrams of
aluminum or more, and it is not unusual for a person with an upset
stomach to consume more than 1,000 milligrams, or 1 gram, of aluminum
per day. A buffered aspirin tablet may contain about 10 to 20
milligrams of aluminum. Not all antacid and buffered aspirin contain
aluminum. Read the product labels to determine if aluminum is contained
in your medication. Aluminum cookware manufacturers warn that storing
highly acidic or salty foods---such as tomato sauce, all fruit
products, rhubarb, or sauerkraut---in aluminum pots may cause aluminum
than usual to enter the food. (Also, undissolved salt and acidic foods
allowed to remain in an aluminum pot will cause pitting on the pot's
surface.) However, 50 mg aluminum intake is virtually impossible to
avoid, and when precaution taken the amount leached in food from
aluminum cookware is relatively minimal. Aluminum can also leach from
aluminum foil, do not store acidic or salty food in aluminum foil.
FDA reviewed existing data because of consumer concern and formally
announced in May 1986 that the agency "has no information at this time
that the normal dietary intake of aluminum, whether from naturally
occurring levels in food, the use of aluminum cookware, or from
aluminum food additives or drugs, is harmful."
One reason aluminum became popular for cookware is because it is an
excellent heat conductor. Heat spreads quick and evenly across the
bottom, up the sides, and across the cover of a pot to completely
surround the food. Now cookware manufacturers have developed a process
for treating aluminum that retains the heat conductivity properties of
the metal, but changes aluminum in other ways. The process, called
anodization, involves a series of electrochemical baths that thicken
the oxide film that forms naturally on aluminum. Food barely sticks on
the hard, smooth surface of this altered aluminum, making it easier to
clean. Anodized aluminum cookware doesn't react to acidic foods, so
these pots and pans are top choices for cooking fruits and sauces with
tomato, wine, and lemon juice.
Because nonstick finishes may be scratched by sharp or rough-edged
kitchen tools, manufacturers recommend using plastic or wooden
utensils. Abrasive scouring pads or cleansers should not be used to
clean them. Nonstick pans do abrade with heavy use and particles may
chip off, if ingested particles pass unchanged through your body and
pose no health hazard.
Cooking enthusiasts now are hailing Silverstone and Excalibur nonstick
coatings, which are made of three layers of the same plastic used on
Teflon and other perflourocarbon resin-coated pans. This material is
extremely durable, inert and it will not migrate.
Consumers who do not use aluminum pots and pans usually typically use
stainless steel. Stainless steel cookware and bakeware is exceptionally
durable. Its attractive finish won't corrode or tarnish permanently,
and its hard, tough, nonporous surface is resistant to wear. As
stainless steel does not conduct heat evenly, most stainless steel
cookware is made with copper or aluminum bottoms. Manufacturers caution
against allowing acidic or salty foods to remain in stainless steel for
long periods. Although there are no known health hazards from leaching
of the metal, undissolved salt will pit steel surfaces.
Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, especially good for
top-of-range cooking. Cooks often prefer copper cookware for delicate
sauces and foods that must be cooked at precisely controlled
temperatures. However, copper cookware is usually lined with tin or
stainless steel. FDA's Thomas says that the agency cautions against
using unlined copper for general cooking because the metal is
relatively easily dissolved by some foods and, insufficient quantities,
can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Cast iron is strong, inexpensive, and is an even conductor of heat
useful for browning, frying and baking food. Cooking with cast iron
also provides a source of iron. Nutritionists suggest that foods cooked
in unglazed cast iron contain twice or more times the amount of iron
they would contain otherwise.
Cast-iron utensils should be handled differently from other utensils.
To prevent rust damage, the inside of cast iron cookware should be
coated frequently with unsalted cooking oil. It should not be washed
with strong detergents or scoured and should be wiped dry immediately
Ceramic and Enameled Cookware
In 1830, a Bohemian craftsman found he could create a permanent,
smooth, glassy surface on cast iron by finishing it with porcelain
enamel. This highly durable glass is stain and scratch resistant and
does not pick up food odors. Today, enamel-coated iron and steel
provide colorful as well as practical additions to the cook's
collection. Cookware made properly of enamel on these metals is safe to
cook with, says Edward A. Steele, acting director, executive operations
staff, in FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Steele
says that because of the high firing temperatures required,
lead---which could present a safety concern--is not used in the enamel
for this cookware.
Lead, however, is used in some glazes for slow-cooking pots
(crock-pots). But, in tests done in 1987, FDA found that the amount of
lead that leached into food from these pots did not exceed FDA
This information written by Anne Field, Extension Specialist, Emeritus,
with references from the FDA Consumer newsletter.
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This information is for
educational purposes only. References to commercial products or trade
names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those
not mentioned. This information becomes public property upon
publication and may be printed verbatim with credit to MSU Extension.
Reprinting cannot be used to endorse or advertise a commercial product
MSU is an
employer. Michigan State University Extension programs and materials
are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender,
gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political
beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran
status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and
June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thomas G. Coon, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing,MI 48824. This
information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial
products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or
bias against those not mentioned.
information.was reviewed as
of June 2008. For more information about the contents please
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