Shopping for the Safest Cookware

by in Food Safety, October 14, 2009

After I served up rice with flecks of metal, my hubby finally agreed we needed new pots and pans. I got the All-Clad ones I’ve always wanted. After six years, my set is still going strong and dinner has been fleck-free ever since. If you’re looking to upgrade or just wondering about your everyday pots, here are some important things to know.

Infused Aluminum Cookware Set
More than half the cookware sold today is made of aluminum. These pieces are usually coated with a nonstick finish or treated to harden the surface and make it scratch-resistant. If you have an old non-coated aluminum pot or pan, chances are it will start showing wear sooner or later (this is known as “pitting”); you might start chowing on metal flecks, too. If you keep cooking with it, this can add too much aluminum to your food, a potentially toxic situation.

A warning: If you use aluminum cookware, don’t store acidic foods — lemon juice, tomato sauce, oranges vinegar, etc. — in it. Extended exposure to acidic dishes can leach more aluminum into your food. If you’re prepping soups, sauces or other longer-cooking recipes that contain acidic ingredients, choose anodized aluminum cookware. Anodization is a process that hardens the surface of the cookware, making it non-stick, scratch-resistant and easy to clean.

Our Pick: Infused Cookware set by Calphalon

Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless Steel
Made from a combo of iron and other metals, this go-to metal is durable and won’t corrode or tarnish. Some stainless steel contains chromium and may also have nickel, molybdenum or titanium, which boost its resistance to damage from high temperatures and scratching.

Because stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat evenly, most pots and pans have copper or aluminum bottoms. Like with aluminum pots, don’t keep your acidic or salty foods in stainless steel cookware for long periods or you risk damaging them.

Lots of home chefs prefer all-clad stainless steel. “Clad” means “three ply,” which consists of an aluminum or copper base layer sandwiched between layers of stainless steel so the heat is more evenly distributed. Although it’s pricey, my All-Clad set is worth it!
Our Pick: Stainless Steel Cookware by All-Clad

Copper Cookware
Copper is a great heat conductor and excellent for range-top cooking. Many cooks like to use it for delicate sauces and foods that need to reach exact temperatures. Copper cookware is typically lined with tin or stainless steel for safety; the FDA warns against using unlined copper pots since the metal easily leaches into acidic foods. If you’ve been cooking with unlined pots, go to your doctor if you suspect you’ve overloaded on copper — symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Our Pick: Try-Ply Copper by Calphalon

Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron is strong, inexpensive and evenly conducts heat — this makes it good for browning, frying and baking foods. Cooking with these heavy pots and pans leaches iron into your food, which, in this case, is a good thing. Using unglazed cast iron typically adds about twice the amount of iron. You don’t want to store your food in this cookware, but cooking with it once or twice a week can be a nice iron supplement to your diet (especially for those with iron-deficiency anemia).
Our Pick: Cast iron skillet by Lodge

Enameled Dutch Oven
Some aluminum, iron and steel has an enamel coat, which makes it stain and scratch resistant. It also doesn’t pick up food odors. In the 1970s, the FDA detected that enamel cookware might cause cadmium toxicity — after that, the U.S. banned these products. These days, you’ll find cadmium-free enamelware available. The FDA continues to test cookware to make sure we’re not exposed to excessive metals while using them.
Our Pick: Enameled Dutch Oven by Le Creuset

Nonstick Pans
While convenient for cleaning, many nonstick coatings wear away with hard use — you may even get pieces that chip off. The FDA claims that these particles don’t pose a health hazards. Research has also suggested that heating coated pans for long periods of time at high temperatures leads to off-gassing potentially toxic fumes, which has scared some away from nonstick. From what I’ve found, these fumes are less toxic than those given off by ordinary cooking oils.
Our Suggestion: Don’t overheat your nonstick cookware and only use appropriate utensils with them (no metal spatulas or spoons, which can damage the surface). Replace them when you notice scratching or the nonstick coating is chipping off.

Slotted Silicon Spoon
What you cook with affects your pots and pans, too. Metal tools can damage even the nicest cookware, but don’t turn to the cheap plastic utensils either — they’ll melt right into your meal. Use wood spoons and silicon spatulas to preserve your pots and keep food safe.
Our Pick: Slotter Turner by Henckels

TELL US: What do you cook with?

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Comments (6)

  1. Julie says:

    It's all stainless steel and cast iron, baby. :)
    When studies showed aluminum buildup in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, we ditched all of the aluminum. (Studies have since suggested that the aluminum wasn't ingested.)
    Stainless steel was the natural choice for event heating, good wear and little maintenance.

    But you'll never pry my cast iron spiders (frying pans) and Dutch oven away. My parents have cast iron frying pans that have been handed down for generations. And since women of child-bearing age get rid of iron naturally, we make sure our male family members donate blood to offset any iron overages.

  2. Cast iron is heavy, inexpensive and evenly conducts heat . Cast iron makes it good for browning, frying and baking foods. Cooking in these heavy pots and pans leaches iron into your food, that becomes a good things .

  3. I had no idea that aluminum and other harmful chemicals could leak from the cookware or bakeware and into food. I have always just let food (of all kinds) sit in the pans until I had a chance to wash them. Recently I have shifted to clay bakers for a lot of my cooking. Do you know if those pose any potential hazards?

  4. Lindy Shiels says:

    IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offencesFor abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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  6. Judy says:

    Is the enamel coating on Bobby Flay cookware safe? It can be used in ovens not to exceed 375 degrees, and handles may get hot in microwave as stated on the packaging. Nowhere can I find information on the material of the bakeware.

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