Leaching is one of the major safety concerns when it comes to the use of cookware. This is the process by which some of the components used in making the cookware gets released during use and seeps into the food being cooked. Ingesting a small amount of metal used in making the cookware not only affects the taste of your food but has been linked to serious health risks. The variety of health problems arise as a result of the accumulation of ingested metals in various body tissues.
Although ceramic cookware is often claimed to be a healthy alternative to questionable cookware, some types of ceramic utensils may contain heavy metals that may be hazardous to human health. Before making the choice of ceramic cookware to use, it is important that the potential health risks are taken into consideration.
What is Ceramic Cookware made of?
Ceramic cookware is usually of two types:
• 100%ceramic cookware and
• Ceramic coated cookware
Ceramic Coated Non-Stick Cookware
Ceramic non-stick coating is a recent addition to the available options of non-stick coatings. Ceramic Coated cookware consists of a metal body, while the cooking surface is covered by the ceramic coating. The base is usually made of aluminum to ensure good heat circulation as well as sturdiness. The benefits offered by ceramic coated cookware arise from the fact that the non-stick cooking surface is free of toxic chemicals such as those found in Teflon. The ceramic layer also prevents the leaching of the metal core into food.
Is Ceramic-Coated Cookware Safe for Food Preparation?
Unlike metal, the materials used in coating ceramic cookware are soft and therefore have to be handled with care in order to ensure that the inside of the cookware does not chip off with continuous use. Generally, the degradation of various brands of ceramic-coated utensils occurs over time, but they can be safely used for about 3 to 5 years under normal conditions.
The older models were made with thin layering that degraded easily over time. Also, the metals could possibly leach out of the base and seep into food as a result of continuous use of some metallic utensils and abrasive cleaners which may scratch the surface.
However, the manufactures now use more layers of ceramic to coat these utensils, thus making them more durable. Over the years, several improvements have been made to this cookware in terms of quality.
How to Stay Safe from Heavy Metal Leaching
It is the responsibility of everyone who will be buying ceramic cookware to ensure their safety from some of the toxic chemicals by:
• Avoiding the purchase of ridiculously cheap cookware. These types are not very durable because their coatings are thin and therefore, they degrade easily when compared to the more expensive ones with a thicker coating.
• Ensuring that you only patronize trustworthy producers of utensils.
• Asking the right questions and reading all labels carefully before making a choice.
• Obeying the directions of the manufacturer for proper use and cleaning of ceramic cookware.
• Discarding cookware that is chipped and have cracks inside them.
100% Ceramic Cookware
This type of ceramic cookware is made by pouring a mixture of clay and water into pre-shaped molds. These molds have the shape of the desired cookware and they are fired in a kiln for a long time to achieve the hardened surface of ceramics. The major problem with previous types of ceramic cookware, especially the cheap ones was that they cracked and broke quite easily. However, this problem has been resolved with the use of new manufacturing techniques to produce ceramic lines that are clay-based and crack-resistant. Some examples including the XtremaCeramcor and Emile Henry cookware can last many years and are non-reactive.
Unglazed clay cookware which is made from the clay alone is non-reactive and it is completely free of harmful substances. This type of cookware is considered to be the safest option for cooking and food serving purposes.
Ceramic Glazes Safety Concerns
Glazes are applied to ceramics to give them strength and a smooth, shiny finish that prevents moisture from entering into the cookware. Some of the ingredients used in making glazes include lead and cadmium which are toxic to human health. These heavy metals can leach out of the cookware and seep into the food being cooked, kept or served using these utensils. The rate of leaching of these materials has been found to increase at high temperatures and also with acidic foods.
Lead deposits build up in the human body and over a period of time, they begin to pose serious health problems to people. According to some studies, regular use of certain ceramic cookware can cause lead poisoning, which can lead to serious health issues in children.
The following is a summary of the regulations of the United States’ Food and Drug Administration with regards to the lead content of tableware:
- Any tableware that exceeds the levels stipulated by the FDA should not be sold in the U.S
- According to Proposition 65 in California, all businesses must give the public warnings about potential lead exposures.
- If a dishware has been tested and is known to leach lead at a level higher than the stipulations of Proposition 65, a warning must be pasted to inform the public about this.
- This warning consists of a yellow triangle and a message placed beside or on the affected cookware when they are being put on display for the purpose of sales.
- The only tableware that is certified safe to use is those that have lead levels below the standards stipulated by decree 65.
Overall, manufacturers in the U.S have to follow the guidelines as indicated by the FDA, therefore their cookware is said to be safe for human use. However, manufacturers in other countries may not be bound by the same rules and ceramic cookware that is imported may contain lead at levels that exceed those permitted by the FDA.
How to Reduce the Chances of Exposure to Lead
- Always check for the safety certifications before purchasing ceramic cookware that has been glazed. Ensure that you strictly follow the directions given by the manufacturer on the care and handling of such cookware.
- Purchase glazed clay cookware only from a reputable manufacturer. Usually, such manufacturers will state clearly that the utensils are free of potentially harmful chemical materials.
- Always avoid buying cheap ceramic products. Purchase the ceramic cookware that has been certified safe, even if they are somewhat more expensive.
- Always ask questions before making a choice. Ask the seller of the utensil if it meets the standards set out under Proposition 65.
- You should bear in mind that imported ceramic cookware may not be entirely safe for cooking, storing or serving food. Therefore, avoid them at all cost.
- Be careful with items with colorfully glazed interior surfaces. Bright colors in an external glaze are generally not a problem, but avoid putting such pieces in the dishwasher.
- Hand-crafted, homemade, and antique tableware shouldn’t be used for holding food because these dishes were made before the permissible limit of lead content in cookware was regulated.