Safest Cookware - Bad Choices

Ever wonder why there are so many types of cookware to choose from? A wide range of materials, prices, and styles make it more difficult to figure out what’s best for your kitchen.

Some home cooks need a specific material that is compatible with the surface of their stove or the type of dish they’re preparing, while others need to carefully consider a budget. But did you ever consider the safety of the cookware you’re using to carefully prepare all those delicious meals? If you haven’t, then you should add this to your list of criteria for choosing the best cookware.


While you don’t necessarily need to throw away your pots and pans after reading this article, we’ll touch on safety risks some materials pose and hope you’ll consider taking a closer look at your cookware collection. The good news is that there are only a few types of cookware we don’t recommend or use in our own kitchen.

Unsafe Cookware

Non-Stick (Teflon Coated)

Non-stick cookware coated with Teflon, a manmade chemical, is popular in part because it’s normally very cost effective. Many consumers also choose it because they don’t have to worry about scraping baked on bits from their pots and pans. However, this non-stick coating scratches easily, releasing particles of Teflon into food. While these particles are reportedly inert and not found to pose a health risk, they should not be consumed. (source) The American Cancer Society identifies the following as the main concern related to non-stick coatings:

The major health effect linked with Teflon is the potential release of dangerous fumes from coated pans that are overheated. These fumes can cause flu-like symptoms in humans (a condition known as polymer fume fever) and can be fatal to birds. (source)

Many will argue that normal cooking temperatures will very rarely reach the temperature at which the dangerous fumes are released, but…

…EWG-commissioned tests conducted in 2003 showed that in just two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases. (source)

If you’re still not convinced non-stick surfaces are dangerous, this graphic from the Environmental Working Group puts the dangers of Teflon into further perspective.

The American Cancer Society also warns that another chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used in the production of Teflon. While this chemical is burned off during processing and not present in significant amounts in the final product, “Some studies have suggested that higher than average PFOA blood levels in humans is linked to higher than normal cholesterol levels, thyroid disease, and reduced fertility.” (source) Results of these studies were concerning enough for the Environmental Protection Agency to urge companies to completely eliminate PFOA from production of products by the year 2015.

There have been many studies done on Teflon in recent years, but more is needed to determine the extent of its health risks. The above information was enough motivation for us to kick non-stick cookware out of our kitchen.


Aluminum

Sure, it’s light and durable, but it also comes with some health implications. It’s true that aluminum is everywhere – it’s found in food, drugs, vaccines, personal products, and uncoated aluminum cookware. While most of us aren’t exposed to enough aluminum while cooking to be of great damage, it’s the accumulative effects of aluminum that can have serious long-term health consequences.

Aluminum damages brain tissue and also prevents our bodies from naturally detoxifying. (source) In the past there has also been some research that supported the Alzheimer’s/aluminum link, but at the same time a lack of solid evidence that aluminum could be a cause of neurological diseases. However, there is some very recent research with comprehensive data that shows a direct relationship between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer’s disease.

Considering all these things, we choose to eliminate aluminum anywhere we can in our daily lives. It’s not possible to avoid all aluminum in the environment, but our cookware is one place we can definitely control our exposure.

Copper

In my opinion copper is the most beautiful type of cookware available and many cooks use it based on its superior performance. However, the beauty and performance of this cookware should be overlooked when considering the dangers copper may pose to health.

Copper and nickel, both toxic heavy metals, are found in the finish of copper cookware and can be leached into food. When heavy metals like these build up in the body the dangerous effects on the mind and body include mental disturbance and chronic illnesses.

To avoid the negative health effects of copper and nickel toxicity, it’s advised that you only purchase pieces that have copper on the outside or sandwiched between layers of another safe metal like stainless steel. Never purchase copper cookware in which copper has been used to line the inside surfaces.

What types of cookware SHOULD you be using?

The good news is that there many materials used in the production of cookware that are completely safe. We cover several types of safe cookware/bakeware here in this article if you’d like to learn more!

What are you cooking with?

Are you avoiding these dangerous/controversial types of cookware?

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References & Suggested Reading

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Comments

  1. Terri Farley says

    I use Salad Master Cookware. I’ve had it for 39 yrs. I used to sell it & warned people about different cookwares. One of the biggest arguments I still get, is about using cast iron cookware. We did a test for people comparing our cookware against cast iron & aluminum. I’m curious as to what you think about using cast iron.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I’ve written all about my thoughts on cast iron in an upcoming post, so stay tuned! (We like it for many things…not for everything.)

  2. Cheryl says

    I have recently been found to have toxicity to aluminum, lead and arsenic. I have eliminated antiperspirants and all aluminum cookware. But happened to see the aluminum foil in my drawer. Out it goes. I won’t purposely expose myself to any more of these things that are damaging my health. In trying to find relief for this toxicity, I was speaking to a homeopathic doctor. We have a family history that is rampant with auto-immune diseases He said that about 50% of people have a gene that prevents their bodies from getting rid of toxic waste–and our history of broad spread auto-immune diseases suggests that it is this gene–and not a specific auto-immune disease. And he said that probably the one who have 3 of these diseases–and it looks like me also–are on the far end of the spectrum–with out bodies not voiding the toxic metals naturally or have been exposed to abnormal amounts of toxicity. We have gone to using case iron pans almost exclusively now for stove top cooking. I had had a stash of them in my cupboards–but didn’t use them because of the weight. I am much less concerned about weight than about health at this point.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I’m with you… I used to hate cast iron because it was so clunky and heavy. But we love it for many things now, and one of our big cast iron skillets is a mainstay on our stovetop. Great job on working toward eliminating aluminum in your life!

  3. kim says

    i am curious as to whether or not aluminum foil is safe and if not what would a safe alternative be? also i got some pots as a gift that are metal but I am not sure if they are stainless steel or aluminum is there a way tell the difference? otherwise i use cast iron

    • Betsy Jabs says

      We like cast iron, and there are many other types of cookware that are safe. Stay tuned for my future post all about safe cookware/bakeware!

  4. Shelley says

    I use cast iron, stainles steel and I have one ceramic pan. I have read both good and bad on the ceramic. Any advice on that? Also, if I need to use aluminum foil in cooking I have been putting a sheet of parchment down first so that the foil doesn’t touch the food. Is that safe enough?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I’ll cover ceramic, cast iron, and stainless cookware in an upcoming article – so watch for it! As far as the aluminum issue, it is probably safer to put some parchment down first. However, parchment paper is still porous, so I’d still be a little wary of this method. I’m sure you’re getting much less aluminum leaching into foods, but there’s probably still some getting through the parchment paper, especially when cooking with fats.

  5. Nancy Barnes says

    I have used glass only for years and have never wanted anything else. Glass is super easy to clean, dishwasher safe and break resistant. It is difficult to find as I don’t think it has been manufactured for some time. Searching estate and garage sales has been the best option. I haven’t used a metal pan in years and have no desire to!

    • Vickie says

      oh Nancy, I like this idea~!! Time to start searching the garage sales I suppose, or thrift stores.

      • Nancy Barnes says

        Vickie–it also is the most versatile of any type of cookware. It can be used on top of the stove, in the oven, in the microwave and in the toaster oven–also the freezer. It isn’t hard to find–it’s just one of those things that you have to grab when you see it. And the most I have ever paid for any of it (and I have a lot) was $10 for the large roaster with a lid.

  6. Debbie Trask says

    If aluminum cookware is so bad, what about using aluminum foil to cook fish with on the BBQ?

  7. Daniella says

    We stopped using aluminum back in the 70s after hearing about its negative side. Since then I have only used heavy stainless steel, I have a few pots from Saladmaster which is heavy and cleans up very well. We are on the way to become vegan so my cooking is also undergoing a change. What could I use to make the fake meat “sausages” which are supposed to be rolled up in aluminum foil and steamed? Would just parchment do the same job? I am hoping that stainless steel is OK for cooking with!!!

    • Betsy Jabs says

      We love stainless steel – keep using it! I think you should give parchment paper a try. We have baked/grilled with it, but never steamed. You may want to do a quick search online to see what the results would be. :)

  8. Emily says

    I’m quite suspicious about non-stick cookware, after some negative personal experiences. Rather than the toxic fumes you reference, my concern is with ingesting the materials that are supposedly of no risk.

    For awhile, I had begun a habit of cooking omelets for my family with a cheaply purchased, scratched non-stick skillet. Every time I did this, my husband would have stomach irritation, and my two young children would vomit, sometimes repeatedly. The ingredients were not in question, as I would use them in meals the preceding or following day without consequence. I put two and two together, and threw the pan out.

    Upon visiting a family member months later and having a meal prepared with fresh ingredients in a non-stick pan, my son again vomited twice, shortly after dinner. I’m convinced it’s the cookware!

    Thanks for sharing your research. I so enjoy your blog!

  9. Kathy says

    My husband bought me a set of Americraft (expensive), but SO worth it! Made here in WI of heavy stainless steel, they lock in flavors and cook in no time. Wish I’d had them when I first got married over 40 years ago. “Low and slow” (temp. and time) and everything turns out great.

  10. Joanne says

    About 3 months ago I got rid of all the non stick cookware I had and decided to convert to glass, as it is the only non-reactive material I knew of. I found tons of it at local thrift stores in a less than a month and have big soup pots, fying pans, pots for spaghetti and vegetables and even small cookware, maybe suitable to fy a single egg. i believe it’s all VISION cookware and recently did some searching on glass cookware. Came across some alarming notes about glass shattering, but that seems to be limited to ANCHOR and PYREX type *bake* ware where people are either using it incorrectly (on the stove top) or when it experiences extreme temperature changes. I’m still unsure and am looking forward to your coming posts. The only negative I’ve personally experienced is when I burn something in it (popcorn, constantly.) the spots around the adges with the black char are really challenging to remove. scrubbing, baking soda, washing soda, vinegar, hot soak palin water…

  11. Nimfa says

    Hi, Betsy. I notice you have not mentioned Corning ware which I have been using for about 20 years. Please comment on this kind of cookware.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      Corning Ware is basically glazed stoneware. The glaze is the important part to look at. Over the years the materials have changed that they make these dishes from, so the safety of your Corning Ware could depend on when it was manufactured. I suggest contacting the company to see if their glaze contained lead during the years your pieces were made. (Sorry! Not an easy answer to this one!)

  12. Deb says

    Is it safe to eat a baked potato baked in foil, like most restaurants do? Or maybe just not eat the skin?

    • Betsy Jabs says

      We avoid aluminum foil whenever possible. Its cumulative effects are not good for our bodies. In a restaurant, you may have to specifically ask if they are baking potatoes in foil (some just bake many potatoes on a rack or in a pan). Just avoiding the outer skin of the potato may not be helpful.

  13. Caroline Robinson says

    I like using the George foreman type grill for certain foods but it has like Teflon coating… Is there any other ones out there with safe coatings like stainless steel ….