Leaching is one of the major safety concerns when it comes to cookware. During the leaching process, some of the components used in the production of the cookware seep 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 potential health risks. A variety of health problems may arise as a result of the accumulation of ingested metals in body tissues.
Although ceramic cookware is often claimed to be a healthy alternative to Teflon cookware, some types of ceramic utensils can contain heavy metals that may pose a risk to human health. Before buying ceramic cookware items for your kitchen, it is important to take these potential health risks into consideration.
What is Ceramic Cookware made of?
There are two basic types of ceramic cookware:
• 100%ceramic cookware and
• Ceramic coated cookware
Ceramic Coated Cookware
Ceramic non-stick coating is a recent addition to non-stick coatings available on the market. Ceramic coated cookware consists of a metal body, while the cooking surface is made of layers of the ceramic-based non-stick coating. The base is usually made of aluminum to ensure good heat circulation as well as sturdiness.
The popularity of ceramic coated cookware comes from the claims that the non-stick cooking surface is free of toxic chemicals that can be found in Teflon cookware. The ceramic layer is supposed to prevent leaching of the metal 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 ceramic-coated cookware occurs over time, but the cookware can be used for about 3 to 5 years under normal conditions before showing the signs of degradation.
The older models are made with a thin ceramic layer that easily degrades over time. Also, the metals could possibly leach out of the base and seep into food as a result of continuous use of metallic utensils and abrasive cleaners which may scratch the surface.
However, the manufactures now use more layers of ceramic to make their cookware safer and more durable. Over the years, several improvements have been made to ceramic coated cookware in terms of quality.
How to Stay Healthy and Safe
Before and after purchasing ceramic coated cookware you should follow some basic guidelines:
• Avoid purchasing ridiculously cheap cookware. Such cookware pieces are not very durable because their coating is thin and tends to degrade easier than the coating of comparable, more expensive products.
• Make sure that you purchase from a reputable company.
• Ask the right questions and read all labels carefully before making a decision.
• Follow the directions for the proper use and maintenance.
• Discard cookware items that are chipped and have cracks on the interior surface.
100% Ceramic Cookware
This type of ceramic cookware is made by pouring a mixture of clay and water into pre-shaped molds. These molds are fired in a kiln for a long time to achieve the hardened surface of ceramics. The major problem with older types of pure ceramic cookware, especially the cheap ones, was that they could get cracked and broken quite easily. However, the problem has been resolved by using new production methods to create crack-resistant clay-based lines. Some brands, including the XtremaCeramcor and Emile Henry cookware, are very durable and long-lasting. These brands of pure ceramic cookware are considered non-reactive and completely free of harmful substances. Pure ceramic cookware is one of the safest options for cooking and food serving purposes.
Ceramic Glazes Safety Concerns
Glazes are applied to ceramic cookware to give it a smooth, shiny finish that prevents moisture from entering the cookware. Some of the ingredients used in making a glaze include lead and cadmium, which are found to be toxic to human health. These heavy metals can leach out of the cookware and seep into the food that is cooked, stored, or served in these utensils. The process of leaching is more intense at high temperatures and with the greater food acidity.
Lead deposits build up in the human body and can pose serious health problems over time. According to some studies, regular use of certain types of glazed ceramic cookware can cause lead poisoning and serious health problems in children.
The following is a summary of the regulations of the United States’ Food and Drug Administration with regards to the lead content in cookware and 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 public warnings about potential lead exposures.
- If dishware has been tested and is known to leach lead at a level higher than the stipulations of Proposition 65, a warning must be posted 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 sales purposes.
- 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 considered 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 use and care of such cookware.
- Purchase glazed clay cookware only from a reputable manufacturer. Typically, such manufacturers will state clearly that the product is 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 purchasing. Ask the seller if the product meets the standards set out under Proposition 65.
- You should keep in mind that imported ceramic cookware may not be entirely safe for cooking, storing or serving food. Therefore, avoid using them for those purposes at all costs.
- 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 could be made before the permissible limit of lead content in cookware was regulated.