Are you looking to get copper pans for your kitchen but are a bit concerned if this type of cookware is safe for cooking? If so, then read on to find out if they are safe to use.
With their rich reddish hue and polished surface, copper pans definitely are among the best-looking cookware you can find in today’s kitchens. And copper’s excellent conductive property allows for heat to be distributed evenly across the entire pan. This is a unique feature of copper pans which chefs, kitchen professionals, and food enthusiasts really love since “hotspots” or uneven heating is eliminated and food can be cooked more thoroughly and much quicker with pans made from copper.
However, despite all these excellent features, the subject of this article is one question that keeps on cropping up. This is a valid concern and questions continue to be raised. Understandably, with information on health, fitness, and food safety readily available on the Internet, you will become ever more conscious of what you eat and how your food is prepared. You become aware of health issues concerning different types of cookware and probably are worried if using copper pans in particular may pose a health risk to you and your family. And these concerns are not entirely without basis.
Perhaps your main concern with cooking using copper pans is copper toxicity. This is caused by minute traces of copper particles leaching off the pan’s surface due to chemical or mechanical action and contaminating the food you are cooking, resulting in you and your family ingesting copper without you knowing it.
You have probably heard of horror stories about ancient Romans going insane from drinking wine out of copper vessels, or of communities getting sick from drinking tap water that ran through copper pipes. You fear the ill effects of copper ingestion to the liver and kidneys. And your fear is valid. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency listed liver cirrhosis, necrosis in the kidneys, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal distress, hypotension or chronic low blood pressure, jaundice, fetal mortality, and pregnancy complications as some of the effects of long-term exposure to or ingestion of heavy metals such as copper, lead, and mercury. Obviously, there are reasons to be concerned about copper ingestion.
Although there indeed are potential health and food safety issues associated with using copper pans, as with any other cookware, it is important to note that these health risks can occur only if there is long-term exposure to copper. The keyword here is “long-term.” The US EPA has determined that a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 1.3 milligrams of copper per liter of water poses no adverse health issues. This means that even if you ingest minute amounts of copper daily, as long as you do not go beyond what is deemed safe, then you have nothing to worry about. The US EPA also noted that after extensive laboratory tests, there was no conclusive evidence directly linking copper ingestion to any known human cancer. Now that’s good to know!
Although no one can tell with certainty when man actually started using copper cookware, artifacts found in the Middle East indicated that copper vessels may have been used as early as 9000 BC. Ancient Egyptians used copper vessels to store water and oil. Ancient Romans wined and dined using copper cups and platters. And while ancient man discovered it was probably not a good idea to cook directly on copper because of its toxicity, it was only upon the advent of metallurgy that artisans thought of lining copper pots and pans with tin to prevent copper from leaching, and it was not until the last 200 years when the art of lining copper pans with tin became widespread. After that, copper pots and pans became a regular utensil in grandma’s kitchen.
While it is true that there were cooking pans made entirely out of copper in the old days, developments in engineering, technology, metallurgy, and health sciences have led to healthy improvements in cookware design, concepts, and manufacturing processes. Although there still are manufacturers who make copper pans entirely out of copper for special purposes like making meringue, jams, and jellies where copper ions are actually required in the cooking process, most manufacturers today line or coat the insides of copper pans with a protective layer of tin, stainless steel, nickel, aluminum, silver, or other non-reactive metals to provide a barrier between the copper base and the food being cooked, thus minimizing or totally preventing copper from leaching and contaminating food. This process of “sandwiching” copper between layers of non-reactive metals made these pans much safer while, at the same time, maintained copper’s excellent heat conduction property and the copper pan’s classic old-world appeal and elegance.
Caring for your copper pans goes hand in hand with using your lined pans safely. As a precaution, it is highly recommended that storing food in copper pans for an extended period of time be avoided, most especially if the food is acidic.
Care should also be taken when cleaning coated copper pans. Abrasive cleaning agents such as baking soda should not be used; warm water and dishwashing liquid should be sufficient. Cleaning materials like steel wool and abrasive scrubbing pads should be totally avoided as these materials could scratch, corrode, and degrade the protective metal lining your pan.
After using, allow the pan to cool down before washing to prevent thermal shock and warping which can degrade the protective coating. In addition, avoid using metal utensils when cooking on lined copper pans. Regularly check the inside of your pan for deep scratches and dents. If the pan appears worn out and degraded, it’s a good idea to either have your pan re-lined, if possible, or retired.
Finally, to answer your question if copper pans are safe, as with all other things, there will always be inherent risks and ways to mitigate such risks. As far as copper pans are concerned, choosing pans with adequate protective coating, knowing how to properly care for these pans, and avoiding long-term storage of food inside assures you that copper pans are indeed safe to use.
If you are dead set on purchasing copper pans for your kitchen, then make sure to read our reviews to the best copper pans first!