Non-Toxic Cookware – Tot Guide
With numerous studies showing the health risks associated with everyday items found in your kitchen, we took a deeper look at the chemicals that can be found lurking in cookware so that you can make safer choices for your family.
When it comes to choosing pots, pans, baking trays, casserole dishes and even food storage containers, it’s more important than ever to check what it is made out of. With research showing that a child’s exposure to chemical groups like PFAS (which are used to achieve a non-stick surface) begins in the womb, this is particularly crucial if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or cooking for your children.
At the Tot, we never use or recommend anything that hasn’t passed The Tot Test. This means we’ve looked deep into third-party testing, examined ingredients lists and asked in-depth questions about a product’s composition to ensure it doesn’t contain any of the chemicals we avoid.
To help arm you with the knowledge and right questions to ask to make informed decisions about your family’s cookware, we’ll go over:
- The importance of choosing non-toxic cookware
- Chemicals and cookware materials to avoid
- Choosing safer cookware materials
Scroll down to learn more.
The importance of choosing (truly) non-toxic cookware
While some chemicals and materials are considered perfectly safe at room temperature, issues may arise when exposed to heat because they are able to leach into your food and water. With that being said, some cookware materials have adverse health effects even at low temperatures. Furthermore, if surfaces are scratched and/or begin to flake, then your risk of ingesting potentially harmful chemicals is even higher.
Unfortunately, there is still quite a bit of green-washing when it comes to cookware (and every other industry for that matter), which means you need to tread carefully when considering a product. For example, even though a plastic plate or food storage container might have a big happy sticker saying, “I’m BPA-free!” it could still be made with BPA’s equally evil family member, BPS.
The other sad reality is that many regulating bodies have a reactive approach to safety instead of proactive. To this day, many chemicals that are known to be harmful to our health and the environment are still allowed at high levels. As parents who prefer to err on the side of caution (especially when it comes to products that hold the food that goes directly into our bodies), we always suggest asking the manufacturer for more information about their product if in doubt.
Chemicals and cookware materials to avoid
Many people know to avoid things like BPA and Lead, but one of the most dangerous cookware culprits is a group of chemicals called PFAS.
Below is a list of chemicals and cookware materials to avoid and why.
CHEMICALS TO AVOID
PFAS Chemicals: Found in water and stain proofing finishes for fabrics used on strollers, outdoor toys, footwear and furniture. Also commonly used in non-stick cookware.
“These so-called nonstick chemicals actually stick around for a very long time, if not indefinitely, in the environment and in people. Their presence has been linked to a variety of health harms, including increased cholesterol, multiple cancers and weight gain. They pose additional risks for children. PFAS has been linked to low birth weight, endocrine disruption – particularly harmful in kids who are still developing – and weakened childhood immunity. A recent review by EWG scientists showed multiple studies connecting PFAS to reduced effectiveness of tetanus and measles vaccines in children.”
Lead & Other Heavy Metals: Found in ceramic, glass and enameled cast iron cookware
Exposure to heavy metals such as lead, copper and aluminum can cause nerve damage, learning and behavioral problems, reproductive damage and irreversible brain damage.
The EPA suggests using only glazed pottery that is labeled “lead-free” for cooking, serving, or storing food.
BPA & BPS: Found in baby bottles, water bottles, plastic cups and plates, lunchboxes, food storage containers, plastic toys, and socks.
Bisphenols mimic the hormone estrogen and have been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, female infertility, and obesity. BPA is an especially dangerous endocrine disruptor since even small amounts of this chemical have been shown to cause serious reproductive damage, especially when the exposure occurs in utero.
COOKWARE MATERIALS TO AVOID
Teflon® (aka non-stick cookware)
Teflon® is a brand name for the group of man-made PFAS chemicals mentioned above.
While we know it’s so nice to flip and egg and not have to bring in professionals to clean the pan, the health risks that come with non-stick surfaces are simply not worth it!
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, aluminum is considered a neurotoxic metal that has been linked to brain, bone and kidney disease.
While aluminum cookware is usually coated, if it is scratched and/or chips, then you can potentially be exposed to high levels of aluminum over time.
Like aluminum cookware, if the coating on copper cookware is chipped and/or flaking, then you run this risk of copper toxicity.
Ceramic coated cookware is highly prone to chipping and flaking, especially after months of use. If the coating contains lead or heavy metals (which it very well might), then it can end up leaching into your food and accumulating in your body.
The other issue is that once that ceramic coating is gone, you’re now directly exposed to the metal it was covering.
If you love baking with silicone, ensure that you’re opting for food grade silicone as lower quality options can contain fillers that may leach into your food. While the FDA does indeed say that food grade silicone is safe and will not react with other materials or release hazardous compounds when heated, there are some studies that question how stable silicone is when exposed to extreme heat.
These studies have found that small amounts of certain compounds called siloxanes can leach from silicone when it is exposed to both fat and temperatures over 300F. While the amount of siloxanes leaching is very small, these compounds have been linked to reproductive impairment, liver changes, and some may be even be endocrine disrupting.
The good news is that absolutely NO siloxanes have been found to leach from silicone products that are NOT EXPOSED to VERY HIGH heat and fat.
Choosing safer cookware materials
When shopping for safe cookware, look for things like:
- Cast iron (avoid non-stick)
- Lead-free ceramic
- Lead-free glass
- High Grade Stainless Steel
- Silicone – for food storage and dinnerware, not baking!
If the packaging or brand’s website does not state that the product is free of lead, it’s a good idea to ask.
A note on stainless steel:
When choosing stainless steel materials, you can check what grade it is by looking for a three digit number stamped into it. 304 and 316 are the most common for cooking. However, they do contain low levels of chromium and nickel to help prevent corrosion. These content levels will be represented as % for chromium/% for nickel. For example, 18/10.
If you or someone you know has a serious nickel allergy, you will want to opt for stainless steel with a 400 grade. This type contains chromium, but no nickel.
Lower grade stainless steels (those in the 200 series) can potentially leach chemicals due to the fact that they aren’t as durable.