Cooking School

Is your cookware safe? How to pick pots, pans and pottery

By: Randy Taylor

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

Is your cookware safe? How to pick pots, pans and pottery

By: Randy Taylor

With more and more attention being paid to the quality and purity of what we feed our families, most cooks pay little attention to the possible toxicity of what we cook our food in. Surprisingly, the type of cookware you select and the temperature you use to cook your food may be posing a threat to your health. Before purchasing your next pot or pan, consider some of the safety facts outlined below.

Lead from pottery cookware and dishes can leach into a meal without changing the taste or smell of the food. Lead poisoning is extremely dangerous and can be especially toxic for pregnant women and children. Symptoms associated with lead poisoning are developmental delay, behavioural disturbances and neurological disorders.

To ensure the safety of using pottery dishes or cookware, make sure the item carries a label that reads, "Safe for food use." It is also best to avoid using pottery items such as pitchers or mugs from Mexico or Latin America due to the potentially high levels of lead. Leave items in question for display purposes only.

According to Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, "At 554 degrees fahrenheit, studies show ultra-fine particles start coming off the pan. These are tiny little particles that can embed deeply into the lungs."

The hotter the pans, the greater amount of noxious chemicals are released. In a demonstration for the ABC program 20/20, an experiment was conducted to determine just how quickly a Telfon pan heated up. It was found that a piece of bacon was just getting crisp when the Teflon pan went beyond the initial warning point of 500 F.

If you plan to continue using Teflon, only cook foods at low heat. To be safe, replace Teflon pots with stainless steel pots with copper bottoms for better heat conduction.

Stainless steel
Stainless steel cookware is durable, resistant to wear and has a good safety record. Stainless steel is a combination of iron and other metals such as chromium, nickel, molybdenum and titanium.

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 pots for long periods.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn more about cooking in aluminum and Teflon pans on page 2

Aluminum pots are appealing because they are lightweight, they conduct heat well and they are very affordable. In fact, more than half of all cookware sold today is made from aluminum.

In addition to cookware, aluminum can be found in the air, the soil, the food we eat and several household products such as antacids and antiperspirants.

According to the World Health Organization, adults can safely consume more than 50 milligrams of aluminum per day without detriment to their health. Canadians ingest approximately 10 milligrams of aluminum per day with approximately 2 milligrams derived from pots and pans.

High levels of aluminum have been associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease, but the findings are inconclusive.

When cooking with aluminum pots, the more pitted and worn out the pot, the greater amount of aluminum will be absorbed. Acid-forming foods such as tomatoes, rhubarb, sauerkraut and citrus products absorb the most aluminum.

Teflon is a nonstick substance used on pots and pans. However, recent reports have discovered that Teflon, a substance made by the company DuPont®, emits toxic fumes when heated to high temperatures.

In addition to what we are cooking our foods in, one further consideration should be paid to how we store our foods and in what.

Cooking and storing tips to reduce toxicity
• Do not use Styrofoam cups for drinking (especially hot drinks!)
• When cooking, keep your kitchen well ventilated. Either turn on your oven fan or open a window.
• Avoid eating leftover food that has been stored for more than one day.

Increased public awareness and education has been instrumental in the growth of the organic food market as a hedge against ingesting unnecessary toxins. Choosing the right cookware is yet another step towards putting the quality of the foods we eat back in our control.

Can the right kitchen tools help you lose weight? You bet! Click here to see the top 5 tools for your waistline.

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Cooking School

Is your cookware safe? How to pick pots, pans and pottery