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Is Any Cookware Safe/Lead, etc.-Free?

According to numerous studies, as much as 20% of all cookware/dinnerware contains lead. That's an insane amount. Then, if it's not lead, there's arsenic, aluminum, silicon, and many other forms of heavy metals that can leach into your food while you're cooking it. A horrid example would be rice cookers--so many of them are made of aluminum and/or contain lead. What on earth are we supposed to do? Even cast iron is not recommended, as iron excess may be dangerous, as well. Considering how much I cook, this is kind of pissing me off!

Does anyone know a brand of "safe" cookware? Thank you!

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  1. I would be curious to know where you got your statistics/information from.There is nothing unsafe about aluminum; It does not cause Alzheimers so you can mark that off the list. Cast iron is not dangerous unless you have some disease where iron is a problem. Stainless steel does not contain lead.

    26 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      Agreed about aluminum. There is some mystery as to what exactly causes alzheimers, but aluminum has been studied and effectively ruled out as a causative factor. Steel clad aluminum or steel with aluminum disc bottom is about as safe and non-reactive as pans come.

      On top of that, I can assure the OP that very few people (possibly none) are absorbing enough iron from their cast iron cookware for it to be a health problem. Iron deficiency is far more common than iron toxicity, and cookware is not among the normal causes of the latter.

      1. re: cowboyardee

        Most people don't use cast iron anymore, and those who do, most likely do not use cast iron daily, so I definitely agree with your assessment. Iron toxicity is more likely to arise from acute high-level exposures as opposed to chronic low-level exposures, but this does not necessarily indicate that such exposures are healthy.

        Has aluminum really been ruled out? I haven't yet found any reliable sources of this information, as most tests ruling out aluminum used much lower doses in their experiments. Thank you for the steel-clad aluminum tip, as I was thinking this myself.

        1. re: Nattomi

          I realize I used my terms a little imprecisely, but iron overload isn't particularly common in the US... even among daily users of cast iron - there are more of us than you seem to realize. Of course there are some medical conditions that can make it so that a person should be extra careful about their iron intake, but for normal people, the level of iron absorbed from a pan seems to be far below a level that would lead to chronic overload.

          As far as Alzheimers goes, aluminum has been studied extensively with no causal relationship established. 'Ruled out' may be too strong, but current scientific findings would indicate that aluminum is most likely an incidental factor in alzheimers, not a causal one. You can decide for yourself. Here is a decent rundown of what is known, citing most of the major studies on the matter:
          http://alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts...

          But at any rate, given your particular concerns, clad or disc bottom stainless steel & aluminum pans would seem to fit the bill. You'd have to do A LOT of scratching to get to the layer of aluminum. You could probably find a completely stainless steel pan, but it wouldn't conduct heat well at all.

          1. re: Nattomi

            I use cast iron almost daily and many days multiple times. Those with problems with too much iron have to worry about more than just cast iron as many foods are high in iron content.

            Aluminum should be seasoned before use which results in little contact between aluminum and food in a fry pan or sauce pan. Seasoning improves its performance. If you eat in restaurants, the likelihood that part of your meal has been cooked in aluminum probably exceeds 80%.

            1. re: Nattomi

              Do a search for: memory loss myths.

          2. re: escondido123

            I am wonder if the original poster means "trace" level of lead, which can happen in any cookware.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Trace levels can happen and are fine with me. However: http://www.wthr.com/Global/story.asp?... is not fine with me.

              Lead in slow cookers has been a common problem, as well as lead's presence in the glaze of ceramic dishes. It's not really one-offs that worry me, but the potential chronic exposure, even at low doses. For example, I rely on slow cookers quite a bit--nearly every other day, in fact.

              1. re: Nattomi

                If you really worry about lead from slow cooker but like slow cooker a lot. There is the nonstick aluminum slow cooker, but you probably don't like that as well:

                http://www.williams-sonoma.com/produc...

                This Delonghi is one of those which has no lead added to the ceramic. I am sure there are many otehrs too. Lead is usually added to brighten the color and most white glazed ceramic has no lead.

              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Oh the trace level of lead? Try the air we breathe and the water we drink, lead and mercury are both (well all chemical elements are) naturally occuring

              3. re: escondido123

                http://www.sciencemag.org/content/180...
                http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1980-...

                If you wish, you can find more trustworthy sources in your own time. However, it is well known and documented that aluminum in high quantities can serve as a neurotoxin. Whether or not this can lead to Alzheimer's may of course still be debatable in literature--hell, what isn't. At any rate, I do wish to minimize my exposure to aluminum, if possible!

                1. re: Nattomi

                  Your first link is a 1973 paper. If you are interested in the science, you need to look up more recent studies and reviews that cite it. Some questions to ask are:
                  - has a higher aluminum concentration been found in other studies?
                  - is the aluminum a cause, or a result of the dementia?
                  - what are the possible sources of aluminum?
                  - is there evidence that people who use aluminum cookware have higher intake than others?

                  I have a number of aluminum pans, but few with a bare aluminum cooking surface. It's a great heat conductor, but fairly 'sticky', and not recommended for acidic foods.

                  The strongest warnings about lead apply to glazed ceramics that tourists might bring back from other countries. It is conceivably a problem in the ceramic liners of slowcookers, but I don't know if there are creditable warnings about that or not. Metal pans may have trace levels of lead, but that does not mean they will leach lead into your food.

                  There are reliable government sources (including state level) about sources of lead exposure. I've seen, for example, stickers on appliances warning the California has determined there is lead in the item - most likely it is lead in the solder in the electrical connections inside the item.

                  1. re: paulj

                    "lead apply to glazed ceramics that tourists might bring back from other countries"

                    That is the biggest concern. Agree.

                    1. re: paulj

                      Also a concern is hand thrown artisan pottery used for food. The potter I bought pieces from was concerned about lead, and made sure his glazes did not contain it, or at least fell into the acceptable category. I like to use handmade stoneware for baking some products, but I would only use products that I was sure were food safe, that is, did not leach lead.

                      It is also possible to pick up lead from copper pots that have been improperly soldiered. Surely there aren't many of these around?

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        Unless it is pure copper, a lot of copper is alloyed to enhance its properties. We use a lot of leaded nickel copper at work. Also Tellurium copper and beryllium copper alloys,. Most pure metals are not really desirable to work with, so other elements are added to make them better to work, or better performance in the application it is used in. There are tons of aluminum , steel, copper, and stainless alloys on the market. Each has its place.

                        1. re: sueatmo

                          Well, copper itself is toxic. You don't need lead. Copper tends to be more of an acute toxin compared to lead, but one can get chronic toxicity from copper as well. Most copperware are either lined with tin or with stainless steel for this reason. Tin is much less reactive than copper, so it is a smaller problem and stainless steel is even more so.

                          As for stoneware and ceramicware, all of these bakeware has to pass the California Proposition 65. So they should be safe at least from the leaching part.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            OK. But my handmade stoneware is made in MO, so I don't think Calif law applies.

                            I think these days stoneware for food uses are surely safe. Surely someone would not make something for sale that had too much lead in the glaze. But if you, by chance, are using pottery made in a class or that you found at a flea market, maybe you should consider whether this is a good thing.

                            1. re: sueatmo

                              If you have something you are concerned about, there are test strips you can buy at some hardware stores.

                              1. re: escondido123

                                Not concerned, as my post above stated. However, not everyone might know the source of their artisan pots.

                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  I assumed you weren't concerned, it just seemed like the best spot to post that information. All the best.

                              2. re: sueatmo

                                California law applies everywhere in the US because Californians are awesome. :D (can you tell which state I grew up?)

                                Seriously though, there are federal regulations. It is just that the California regulations are stricter. Most manufacturers I know have their cookware pass the California Prop 65 because California is such a huge market. It is also very odd to market the stoneware for the rest of the 49 states but not California.

                                I am quoting Lodge:

                                "All our domestic as well as imported cookware complies with the FDA Standards. We are also in compliance with California Proposal 65, the world’s most rigid standard for lead and cadmium content."

                                http://www.lodgemfg.com/use-care-help...

                                escondido123 is also correct about the test kits.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Really good info, but not necessarily applicable to older artisan pottery or stoneware bakeware. This is devolving into something that I am not personally concerned about. I was trying to pass info along. It is good to know that we are more protected than I was aware of.

                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                    I agree with you. Like you said, any older artisan bakeware are not regulated much. But that is probably true for many things beside lead.

                                    :)

                              3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I find it interesting that cookware is lined, yet copper water piping is not. Many older homes have complete copper piping in them. The house I grew up in was one of them. Soldered joints, not sure if they were lead free in 1964. Temp issue perhaps, or just a non issue?

                                Personally I feel that this thread is pretty much a non issue.

                                As to someone making an item with leaded glazes - many people may not even consider that there may be lead in their glazes if they are a beginner. I see ceramic bowls etc from China with labels in them Not for use with food. So what happens when it is resold, or donated, and the label is gone? For me I just look at the country of origin. If it says China I leave it on the shelf, as I have heard enough recalls of Chinese made goods to keep me away from them. Plus I want to support the country I live in by buying as much USA made items as possible.

                                As to CA being awesome,welllll I couldn't wait to leave. Lived there almost 40 years and had enough of the BS. It is a wonderful, and beautiful state that has a lot to offer, but the politicians have ruined it for me.

                                1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                                  The safe drinking water act requires lead-free solder be used in drinking water supplies.

                                  The leaching of copper into water depends on pH. Copper should not be used in contact with acidic foodstuffs. Drinking water is approximately neutral, or mildly alkaline.

                          2. re: Nattomi

                            Nattomi, I too avoid aluminum as much as possible. I decided to re think aluminum after some aluminum foil that was covering a meatloaf disentergrated into the top of the meatloaf. Just became a part of the tomato sauce that was on the meat loaf.

                            Of course there is still aluminum exposure in other areas. Such as anti-perspirants.......

                            1. re: dixiegal

                              Hi all
                              Just in case you didn't know: The aluminum of Swiss Diamond cookware is being sealed with a ceramic layer.. So even if one manages to damage the super durable coating, no chance to get down to the aluminum...!

                        2. 20% is a lot. Well, I do agree that many cookware contain aluminum. I think it is very difficult not to contain some trace level of aluminum even in a cast iron cookware. If you have to go by this logic, every cookware is dangerous.

                          Cast iron and carbon steel cookwares have iron which can also be toxic at high level. Stainless steel cookware has iron, chromium, nickel -- all toxic at high levels. Most stainless steel cookware cladded with aluminum – should we also count that aluminum in the middle? Aluminum cookware has aluminum. Copper cookware has copper – which is toxic. Tinned copper cookware has tin which is toxic. Enameled cast iron – toxic.
                          Let me put it this way. Everything is toxic at high levels.

                          I am more than happy to suggest some cookware, but you have to tell us what materials you consider as not toxic. Iron is one of the least toxic metals. The fact that you consider iron as toxic makes all other materials look more toxic in comparison. For most North Americans, we lean toward iron deficiency, not iron overdose.

                          If you afraid of metal leaching out, then your best bet is still stainless steel surface cookware.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Absolutely! Life is a bit dangerous. in my case, my iron levels are a bit high, so this is a personal issue. Normally, I would consider aluminum, lead, and nickel toxic at high levels. However, since nickel is not present at high levels in most cookware, it is not much of an issue. Avoiding ceramic cookware should reduce lead exposure, but I am still not certain how to go about avoiding aluminum. Is all stainless steel equally favorable?

                            Thank you!

                            1. re: Nattomi

                              stainless steel is your best bet - assuming you want to avoid aluminun, Teflon nonstick, lead, and even iron...

                              Here are my reasons. First of all, stainless steel surface cookware have no Teflon. It may have aluminum underneath, but nowhere close to the cooking surface (embedded):

                              http://a57.foxnews.com/static/managed...

                              It does not have copper, tin...etc. It has iron like a cast iron cookware, but stainless steel is very nonreactive thus called stainless. Therefore, the iron does not leach out of the cookware. This is also why people say they can taste metal from cast iron cookware, but not from stainless steel cookware.

                              1. re: Nattomi

                                Hi, Nattomi:

                                You sound like yours is an aversion to metals and pottery of all kinds, and that no material of any theoretically questionable leaching will free you from worry.

                                I therefore suggest to you... Visions glassware. It doesn't cook well, but do you consider glass safe?

                                70% silica (oops, a metalloid)
                                10% boron oxide (oops, boron's another metalloid)
                                8% sodium oxide (darn, sodium's an alkalai metal)
                                8% potassium oxide (dang, potassium an alkalai metal, too?)
                                1% calcium oxide ([sigh] an alkaline earth metal...)

                                Nevermind, just eat out of BPA-lined cans until they come up with 100% PTFE cookware. ;)

                                Aloha,
                                Kaleo

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  Visions cookware (do they still make the stuff?) is horrid to cook with.

                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                    Hi, sueatmo:

                                    I don't know if Visions is currently being made, but there is a lot of it still being sold off/thrown away, precisely because it is horrid to cook with.

                                    Aloha,
                                    Kaleo

                            2. What studies are these? What lead concentration are they talking about? Different analysis methods have different sensitivities. Dangerous levels are quite different trace levels, or levels at which lead is barely detectable.

                              Beware of sources that lump aluminum and silicon with heavy metals. They are not scientific. Aluminum is a light metal, and silicon is not a metal. Silicon is found in abundance in both sand and glass.

                              And why worry about aluminum?

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: paulj

                                Hmmm, I admit part of my worry is due to a family history of dementia. It is not something I wish to have in my future, and there do seem to be studies linking Alzheimer's disease with aluminum. Normally I am not bothered by these linkages, as seemingly everything causes cancer these days, but the persistent direct link is disconcerting.

                                Thank you for making feel a bit better about this. Silicon and aluminum are not actually metals, true, and silicon is definitely not as great a concern for me.

                                1. re: Nattomi

                                  No causality has been shown between aluminum and dementia--which both my parents had. This article may be of interest: http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide...

                                    1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                                      but not a 'heavy metal', which was one of Nattomi's concerns.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        The important or the focus should not be placed on "heavy" vs "light". I would argue that "toxicity" and "clearance/half life" should be the target. Iron is a heavy metal, but we need iron.

                                        *Edited:*

                                        I don't think of aluminum, iron and Teflon as toxic materials, but if the original poster (Nattomi) wants to avoid aluminum, iron, Teflon, then I will work with her restrictions. So I suggested stainless steel cladded cookware.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          The OP worries were scattershot, so I think it worth while to clarify the categories. Aluminum falls in a very different category than lead. We can talk about the pros and cons of aluminum pans, but no one advocates using lead pots or drinking cups (at least not since Roman days).

                                          Stainless steel is an all around good cooking surface, with low reactivity. But it isn't ideal for all uses.

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Ah, the good old Roman time when people seek lead drinkware, and the ancient Chinese search for mercury to lengthen their lives. :)

                                            Stainless steel is not ideal for all uses -- However, if you are trying to avoid aluminum, iron, Teflon, copper., silicon...etc, then you are pretty much stuck with stainless steel. :)

                                            I want to point out one thing. What food we eat has much greater impact of our life than what cookware we use. Okinawans do not enjoy the longest life expectancy because they have awesome cookware. Lifestyle is the most important.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Really good point. Sometimes we obsess about the wrong things.

                                        2. re: paulj

                                          "Heavy metal" is not a precisely defined term:

                                          http://www.iupac.org/publications/ci/...

                                          Aluminum may or may not be considered "heavy" depending on whose definition you use.

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            This other link from the Wiki article discusses both the definitions, and the occurrence and biological considerations of 'heavy metals'

                                            http://www.eoearth.org/article/Heavy_...

                                      2. re: Nattomi

                                        Hi, Nattomi:

                                        I encourage you to read the information at the link our friend cowboyardee has cited.

                                        The initial correlation found between Alzheimer's and aluminum was based on the analysis of deceased victim's brains. When researchers found elevated aluminum levels in the diseased tissues, it was natural to suspect aluminum played a causal role. Current science is trending to the view that it is the diseased cells *themselves* that have an affinity for aluminum, and therefore more of the aluminum that we all have taken into our bodies ends up residing there.

                                        Another thing about aluminum that is often ignored is its passivation layer. Once passivation has occurred, it is harder aluminum *oxide* that is in contact with your food. This passivation occurs in pure aluminum almost instantaneously; in alloys it is "helped" along in three boring ways. But the take-home is that you needn't worry too much about getting much pure aluminum in your body from cookware.

                                        Hope this helps.

                                        Aloha,
                                        Kaleo

                                        1. re: kaleokahu

                                          The article I read said they'd had a hard time duplicating the results and think there may have been aluminum in some of the utensils/equipment used for the study. In that case even trace amounts could become huge in the final analysis.

                                    2. I worked in a kitchen store for a few years. About every six months there would be some new health scare that would have folks running away from some pot/pan material. When the teflon info came out--don't use at high heat or with an empty pan--everyone came looking for a new "non-stick" pan. Many of those folks bought very expensive stainless steel that I explained would not be non-stick, and many came back in complaining that their fried eggs/scrambled eggs were sticking.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: escondido123

                                        Hehe, I find my non-stick pans to be a benefit at times. Although I am wondering if they came about as a direct result of the recent health craze, since it is quite easy to cook without non-stick pans. Still, coatings that harm the health of small animals give me a canary-in-the-coal-mine feeling, although I admit to using Teflon occasionally.

                                        1. re: Nattomi

                                          I always try to consider things relatively.. worried about aluminum? Don't use anti-perspirant. Worried about radiation? Don't fly cross-country. Teflon is great.. just don't heat it above 500 degrees or so...

                                          You can never eliminate risk if the threshold has to be zero - focus on the biggest risks in your life (which are likely driving, obesity, and lack of exercise) and try to reduce their likelihood or impact, rather than focusing on #22 on the list and believing it is really important..

                                      2. There is a lot of material on the web on aluminum in cooking equipment, but most of it is from anti-vaccinationists and other quacks. Here is something on the subject from Health Canada.

                                        The Safe Use of Cookware:

                                        http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/...

                                        1 Reply