Food

The Pros and Cons of Silicone Cookware

A look into the safety of one of America's most popular cookware materials

Remember when we found out that the BPA in plastics were actually endocrine disruptors that could lead to all sorts of yucky health effects like early onset puberty, mess with our hormones and even cause cancer (1)? Since that news, we've seen an abundance of BPA-free cookware, drink ware and bakeware populating the marketplace. Some are even ditching traditional plastic products altogether. One of the most popular materials among industry and consumers alike is silicone. But have you ever wondered just how safe silicone is? We're breaking it down for you below- the good, the bad, and everything in between so you can make the safest choice!

Five Reasons to Love Silicone

  • Heat stable: Silicone can usually be used up to temperatures of 400(F) and can withstand going from extreme heat to extreme cold (2). This makes it a kid-friendly option, but is also great for busy adults who love to cook and leftovers freeze easily in silicone dishware. And when you're done, the silicone dishware can just be tossed into the dishwasher without any fear of it coming out melted after a high heat wash (2).
  • Flexible: Smash it, drop it, squeeze it, silicone will survive basically anything (except maybe an apocalypse) (2).
  • Degrades into large pieces: Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing! Because silicone products degrade into larger pieces, they are not as readily ingested by marine life, animal life and consequently, by humans as well (4)!
  • Durable: Compared to plastic that can crack, or glass that can shatter, silicone products are a great alternative that last basically forever (hurrah for our budgets!) (2).
  • Recyclable: Silicone can be down-cycled into other products (4). Once you're done with them, silicone products can be recycled into petroleum products that can be used again (4).

Five Reasons to be Wary of Silicone

  • Unknown long-term safety: Silicone products are fairly new to the market. Therefore, there have been very few studies conducted on the safety of silicone products and even fewer on the long-term health effects of using silicone products (6).
  • Chemical fillers: Depending on the quality of the silicone product, it may or may not contain chemical fillers (2,4). Generally, the higher the quality of silicone, the less likely it will contain chemical fillers (4).
  • Migration of chemicals into food: Studies have found chemicals in silicone products passing from storage containers, cookware and nursing teats (3,5).
  • Migration of chemicals into air: When silicone products are exposed to high temperatures (think baking), the chemicals in the product can be released into the air (2). The released particles tend to persist in the air and pose a health hazard to the lungs (2).
  • Special recycling process: In order for silicone to be down-cycled, you will need to bring products to special recycling centers (4).

What You Can Do to Keep Yourself Safe (Because Silicone Cookware Really is Awesome!)

  • Look for medical grade: Medical grade silicone should contain little or no chemical fillers (4). By purchasing medical grade silicone, you are ensuring you're getting a product that is as close to 100 percent silicone as possible.
  • Avoid chemical fillers: A quick tip to check for chemicals on a colored product is to pinch the silicone surface (4). If you can see white in the product while pinching, then a chemical filler has been used (4). A pure silicone product shouldn't change color at all (4).
  • Wash before using: Make sure to pre-clean all silicone products before using - this will decrease the amount and likelihood of chemicals getting into the food or air (2).
  • Adhere to maximum temperature: Always look to see what the maximum temperature a silicone product can withstand and don't exceed the temperature (2).

References

  1. https://cehn.org/our-work/eco-healthy-child-care/ehcc-faqs/plastics/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412018318105
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014294181831047X
  4. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=T9U5DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=silicone+cookware+toxicity&ots=q_Px2JTjS4&sig=2fNNOFIj0KVLGo3aAKKs0cXjrPs#v=onepage&q=silicone&f=false
  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19440049.2012.684891
  6. https://orbit.dtu.dk/en/publications/siloxanes-in-silicone-products-intended-for-food-contact(e455a3a3-f6af-4d46-8ef5-1f8cc0ab3a3b).html
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