Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?

Stainless Pots

Did you know there are cookware options on the market that can leach harmful chemicals into the foods we eat?  Some cookware can release gasses when heated that can cause harm.  Stainless steel is easy to find, but is stainless steel cookware safe? Most people do not know we should be reading the labels of the cookware we use every day.

Non-stick pans may contain chemicals linked to hyperactivity1, asthma2, reproductive infertility,3,4,5,6 and hormone disruption7,8.  Let’s dive in with …  is stainless steel cookware safe?

*This article includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless Steel is an alloy mixture which means it is a combination of a variety of metals.  There are over 150 different stainless steel varieties.  In order for steel to be considered stainless it must contain at least 10.5% chromium.  Although most stainless steel contains 18% chromium.

Each variety has different properties, so understanding which type is best for which task is important.  Food grade stainless steel categories are; 200, 300, or 400 series.

2 stainless steel pans with 2 wooden utensils

What is Food Grade Stainless Steel?

Each grade is based on the durability, quality, and heat resistance.   The grade most common for food preparation is 304. 

200 Series Stainless Steel Grade

This is a lower quality stainless steel.  It has a lower price point due to lower quality.  The 200 series is great in commercial kitchens for food storage containers.

304 Series Stainless Steel Grade

The 304 series stainless steel is most common for food prep.  It is great for prep tables, flatware, kitchen utensils, and kitchen appliances. Most stainless steel cookware will be in this category.

It is great for numerous parts of the kitchen since it is not likely to corrode or rust.   The downside is it can corrode due to salt exposure.

Stainless Steel flatware with white napkin and blue tablecloth

316 Series Stainless Steel Grade

316 is high end stainless steel. This grade is resistant to salt corrosion and known as marine stainless. 316 grade is used for outdoor equipment and equipment near sea water. 

316 Series Stainless Steel can be found in some high-end cookware, but with the more expensive price tag there is not a lot of cookware that contains this specific grade.

430 Series Stainless Steel Grade

This type of stainless steel is magnetic.  430 grade series is used in prep tables, appliance doors, and induction ready cookware.

440 Series Stainless Steel Grade

440 is a stronger stainless steel used in the kitchen. It is hard and corrosion resistant.  Often you would see this in cutlery, high quality chef knives, and oven handles.

Chef knife with lettuce and tomato

What Does 18/8 and 18/10 Represent?

You will often see 18/8 and 18/10 on stainless steel, which represent its composition.  These numbers are the chromium to nickel percentage. 

18/8 is stainless steel made of 18% chromium and 8% nickel.  Therefore, 18/10 would be 18% chromium and 10% nickel. 

The higher percentage of nickel means it is less likely to rust and become corrosive.

The most common food grade stainless steel is 18/8 or 18/10 and both are part of the 304 grade. 

Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?

Stainless steel cookware is a great safer cookware option in the kitchen.  There is not a concern using stainless steel from a safety standpoint unless you are highly allergic to heavy metals. 

Stainless Steel is very durable and can last a lifetime.  It can be used for a variety of cooking methods.  It provides a safe cooking surface.

Most pots will be constructed in a 3 or 5 ply layer.  Often aluminum is used as a layer between the stainless steel layers.  This allows the pan to distribute heat evenly and hold the heat since stainless steel alone is not the best heat conductor, and it provides a safe surface for food.

The way the pan is constructed in the layers the aluminum would never be in contact with the food so the surface would be safe to come into connect with your food.  Stainless steel is also safe at high heat temperatures so you do not need to worry about off gassing. 

Stainless Steel Cookware is a great option compared to non-stick pans.  Most non-stick pans are made of harmful chemicals that do in fact leach into the foods when cooked or off gas at high temperatures. 

Grace with All-Clad Stainless Steel pot

Why Invest in Stainless Steel Cookware?

Stainless steel cookware is well worth the investment.  We received gift cards for our wedding and I splurged on All-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware.  The main reason I love All-Clad is their lifetime warranty and it is made in the USA.

Investing in the right cookware can literally last a lifetime.  I would much rather spend more upfront and buy something higher quality that will last much longer.   

I tried the Green pan as a non-stick option.  The pan worked well, but after just 3 years it needed to be replaced.

Sustainability is also an important factor to consider when deciding on cookware.  Is it worth it to purchase a less expensive option if you need to replace it every few years?

How to Care for Stainless Steel Cookware

  • Cook on the stove top at medium heat or lower.
  • Avoid using it under extreme temperatures.
  • Wash the cookware by hand even though it is dishwasher safe.
  • Soak food stuck on the pan, but refrain from letting it soak overnight.
  • Allow the cookware to cool completely before running cold water or washing it.  This could cause it warp. 
  • Avoid steel wool or abrasive cleaners to scrub the cookware as it can scratch the surface.

Why Should You Avoid Non Stick Pans?

What are PFCs?

The coating in nonstick cookware a group of man-made chemicals known as PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals). PFCs includes PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid).

PFOA and PFOS are untouched by heat and other components that normally break down chemicals.  Therefore, it takes a long time for this type of chemical to break down both inside the body, and in the environment. 

PFOA is not the actual non stick surface but an ingredient to produce PTFE.  PTFE makes the coating of non-stick products such as cookware.  

PFTE use in the United States, dates to the1940s. One common PFTE is Telfon, produced by DuPont.

PFOA and PFOS repel water and oil.  They are in a large variety of consumer products including: rain gear, microwave popcorn bags, frying pans, light bulbs, hair straighteners, dental floss, carpet, sofas, waterproof mascaras, and the list goes on. 

The PFOA Stewardship Program phased out PFOA and PFOS, between 2005 to 2015.   Even though, PFOA and PFOS was phased out in the US due to health concerns there are still other countries manufacturing this substance.

Non Stick Health Concerns

Studies have link health and safety concerns ranging from asthma, hyperactivity, hormone disruption, and infertility.  PFOA was classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  The parent organization for IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Manufacturers then switched to using a shorter carbon chain of PFCs which has much less data on possible health effects. This is not necessarily a “safer” option, but just a way around using what has been phased out.

Even though PFOA manufacturing has stopped in the US, it is still everywhere!  The CDC stated that 98% of the American population contains PFOA in their blood. Another study shows that even Polar Bears have these chemicals in their blood stream in Greenland.  This is alarming since it is extremely hard for the chemical to break down.

With limited data and safety concerns on the new chemicals being used it is best to put the nonstick cookware aside and use products we know are safer. 

Teflon Thermometer showing chemical release and common cooking temperatures.
Diagram of Chemical Release at Cooking Temperatures.
Click here to view original document from the Environmental Working Group.

Documentary

I recommend watching the documentary The Devil We Know. The movie is based on the common synthetic chemical, Telfon manufactured by DuPont. The lack of regulation is eye opening. How little health data is provided on the chemicals used on products we use every day in our homes is concerning.

Additional Safer Cookware Alternatives

Tempered Glass Cookware

Tempered glass can be a great option as it is affordable and no concern for leaching chemicals.  The downside of tempered glass is that it can break.

Cast Iron Cookware

Grace with a Lodge Cast Iron pan

Cast Iron is a great option since it is super durable and will literally last a lifetime.  Iron can leach into foods, but if seasoned properly it will reduce the amount of iron that is leached. 

The downside would be the weight of the pan.  It can be very heavy and hard for older adults to manage. 

Enameled Cookware

Enameled Cookware is available at a wide variety of store.  It can be a great option when looking for a safer option.  It is not technically non stick, but does stick less.  You can find my favorite enameled soup pot in my store page under resources. 

In Conclusion, is Stainless Cookware Safe?

Stainless can be a great option for safer cookware. It is durable, affordable, and easy to find.

While I strive to make informed decisions, I am far from perfect.  Please know each decision can impact our health and it is important to go for progress not perfection. 

Our wellness journey is one decision at a time. Small changes can make a difference even when selecting cookware.

Looking to make a swap?  Check out my recommendations on my resource tab. 

Shopping Links

Click here to shop my recommendations for cookware.

Sources:

  1. Hoffman, Kate, et al. “Exposure to polyfluoroalkyl chemicals and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in 7 US children 12-15 years of age.” Environmental health perspectives 118.12 (2010): 1762.
  2. Humblet, Olivier, et al. “Perfluoroalkyl chemicals and asthma among children 12–19 years of age: 8 NHANES (1999–2008).” Environmental health perspectives 122.10 (2014): 1129.
  3. Hunter, J. Roe, et al. “Fecundity, spawning, and maturity of female Dover sole Microstomus pacificus, 9 with an evaluation of assumptions and precision.” Fishery Bulletin 90.1 (1992): 101-128.
  4. La Rocca, Cinzia, et al. “Exposure and effective dose biomarkers for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid 10 (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in infertile subjects: preliminary results of the PREVIENI project.” International journal of hygiene and environmental health 215.2 (2012): 206-211.
  5. Joensen, Ulla Nordström, et al. “Do perfluoroalkyl compounds impair human semen quality?.” 11 Environmental health perspectives 117.6 (2009): 923.
  6. Louis, Germaine M. Buck, et al. “Perfluorochemicals and human semen quality: the LIFE study.” 12 Environmental Health Perspectives (Online) 123.1 (2015): 57.
  7. Cheng, Yan, et al. “The Endocrine Disrupting Effect of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) on Human 13 Estrogen, Androgen and Thyroid Receptors.”
  8. S. Knox, Sarah, et al. “Perfluorocarbon exposure, gender and thyroid function in the C8 Health Project.” 14 The Journal of toxicological sciences 36.4 (2011): 403-410
  9. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.  “What are PFAS?”
  10. Bossi, Rossana, et al. “Preliminary screening of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and other 1 fluorochemicals in fish, birds and marine mammals from Greenland and the Faroe Islands.” Environmental Pollution 136.2 (2005): 323-329.
  11. Environmental Working Group. “Teflon Can’t Stand the Heat.”
  12. Environmental Working Group. “PFC Dictionary”.
  13. United States Environmental Protection Agency.  “Basic Information on PFOA.”
  14. American Cancer Society. “Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Teflon, and Related Chemicals.”

2 thoughts on “Is Stainless Steel Cookware Safe?”

  1. I’ve loved my stainless steal pans for almost 20 years. However, that ourplace pan cooks like a dream and really is a nonstick game changer… I’d like an investigative deep dive into that one.

    1. Those pans are hot right now. There isn’t enough research on the coating because the company has not released on how the coating is made. As from a health risk stand point it is likely low, but typically those types of pans only last about 3 years. My concern would be sustainability and needing to be replaced every few years. I know those who have them love it. It will be interesting to see how they are holding up in 3-5 yrs. The same with the Green Pan. We were given a few and they unfortunately just don’t last. Keep me posted on yours!

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