Utensils that are used to cook food often do more than just hold the food. Molecules of substances can leach from the utensil into the food that is being cooked.
Common materials used in cookware and utensils are:
  • Aluminum
  • Lead
  • Iron
  • Teflon™ (polytetrafluoroethlyene)
  • Glass
  • Stainless steel

Metal cookware and bakeware should be designed to allow them to be easily cleaned. There should be no cracks or rough edges that can trap or hold food or bacteria.
Avoid using metal or hard plastic utensils on cookware. These utensils can scratch surfaces, melt, or shorten the cookware’s lifespan. Use wood, bamboo or silicone. Never use cookware if the coating has started to peel or wear away.

Aluminum cookware is very popular. The hard surface is easy to clean and the electro-chemical anodizing process locks in the cookware’s base metal, aluminum, which makes it non-porous and non-reactive. The aluminum is unavailable to leach into food, and many cooks consider it an ideal non-stick and scratch-resistant cooking surface. Just know that the anodization can breakdown over time, especially with the frequent cooking of acidic foods such as pasta sauce, well-water use or dishwasher’s caustic soaps. Over the years there have been concerns that aluminum cookware increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Children should be protected from ceramic cookware containing lead. Acidic foods such as oranges, tomatoes, or foods containing vinegar will cause more lead to be leached from ceramic cookware than nonacidic foods like milk. More lead will leach into hot liquids like coffee, tea, and soups than into cold beverages. Do not use any dishware that has a dusty or chalky gray film on the glaze after it has been washed. Any ceramic cookware bought in another country or considered to be a craft, antique, or collectable may not meet FDA specifications, and should not be used to hold food. Test kits can detect high levels of lead in ceramic cookware, but may not detect lower levels that may also be dangerous.
Heavy cast iron pans are beautifully non-stick when properly seasoned (cookware-speak for lightly oiled and baked). They hold heat wonderfully and are a joy to cook with. They require some extra maintenance but they are inexpensive and add a little iron to your diet as well.
Teflon™ is a brand name for a nonstick coating found on certain pots and pans. PFOA is a synthetic chemical that is used in the manufacturing of traditional nonstick cookware coatings. The coating itself is called polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE)–most commonly known by its trademark name Teflon. Although PFOA isn’t present in the finished Teflon, it can be formed as a gas when the coating is subjected to high heat and begins to degrade. Some reports suggest that the heat doesn’t need to be that high for PFOA to be released. An EPA Science Advisory Board recommends upgrading the category of a substance, PFOA in this case, from “possible human carcinogen” to “likely human carcinogen.”
The associated health risks are so undeniable that DuPont has voluntarily committed to eliminate the sources of exposure to PFOA from their manufacturing operations and products by 2015. The EPA classifies PFOA as carcinogenic in animals, causing testicular, pancreatic, mammary and liver tumors in rats. Workers exposed to PFOA have increased risks of dying from or needing treatment for cancers of the pancreas and male reproductive tract. Numerous studies have shown that PFOA alters reproductive hormones in the male, causing increased levels of estrogen and abnormal testosterone regulation and that PFOA or chemicals that break down into PFOA damage the thyroid gland.
Glass is the most inert of all cookware, meaning that it doesn’t leach metals or other ingredients into the food.
Stainless steel cookware is low in cost and can be used at high heat. Its cookware surface is sturdy, strong, and resists scratching and corroding. Most cookware have copper or aluminum bottoms for even heating, which reportedly can leach small amounts. Health problems from stainless steel are rare.
Cheap and easy, a cooking tradition as old as stir-frying in a wok is worth its weight in gold. Make sure it is a carbon steel or cast iron version; some western woks are coated with Teflon.
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