pan is scratched

Ceramic cookware is becoming more popular by the day and consumers - rightfully so - are looking into whether ceramic is safer than other popular nonstick coatings such as Teflon.

ceramic cookwarre on tabletop

Let's clear this up right away: modern ceramic cookware you can find in kitchen stores in Western countries or on Amazon is one of the safest types of cookware you can buy. It does not pose any danger to your health if used properly.

The reason we are still talking about the dangers of ceramic cookware is related to some situations when the ceramic pot or pan in question is not modern, not meant for cooking, not from a country with strong safety standards, or used in a dangerous manner. Let's cover all these situations.


Potential Dangers of Ceramic Cookware Use 

Before we look at the potential dangers in detail, let's clarify what ceramic cookware is.

The 2 main types are ceramic coated and 100% ceramic cookware. Ceramic coated means the body of the utensil is made from some kind of metal - usually aluminum or stainless steel - and the cooking surface is coated with a ceramic coating.

Pure ceramic cookware is just that, the whole pan is made from ceramic without any other base materials. 100% ceramic is a very safe but expensive option and only a few manufacturers are producing it.

Ceramic itself is made from clay or other sand derived, natural source and hardened in fire. Modern ceramic coatings only contain inorganic materials without any carbon.

Now, let's move on to the potential sources of danger.

Old Ceramic Cookware 

Early ceramic cookware made in the 1980s and in some locations in the 1990s could contain lead and other heavy metals. When damaged, these harmful elements could leach into the food and cause poisoning.

 Scratched ceramic pans

There was a famous case in the 1980s from an American couple who brought home ceramic mugs from an Italian trip.

They have used their new favorite mugs for drinking coffee every morning in the following year, without knowing that the acidic coffee has eroded the material and has been leaking lead into their beverages. 

The result was a near-fatal lead poisoning that has lead to investigation and stricter manufacturing standards.

Of course, ceramic cookware today is manufactured by much more strict safety standards and it should contain no or very negligible amounts of these elements. However, if you buy any ceramic cookware, plates, or mugs from an antique store or in a garage sale, it would be wise not to use them for food or drink consumption.

Decor Items Made from Ceramic Materials 

Ceramic can also be used on decoration items such as vases, bowls, and other vessels. Artisans are still using metals and other chemicals to make their wares today in Latin America, Asia, North Africa, and even in Europe or North America.

These pieces should be marked as non-food safe but don't trust that it's always the case.

To stay on the safe side, you should always ask the vendor about the food safety of their wares and if you notice that they are not really sure,  use the items for decoration purposes only.

Purchase Location 

Some third-world countries can still have lower safety and manufacturing standards for food-grade cooking utensils, or the law may not be strictly checked and enforced.

making beef steak in pans

It's best to buy your everyday cookware items in safe countries where you know the manufacturers have to adhere to strict standards. You can still buy those beautiful exotic pieces and kitchen decor.

The same goes for items received as a gift where you don't know the origin location.

Damaged or Chipped Items 

When a ceramic coating becomes chipped or damaged it's important that you stop using it. While it should not contain harmful chemicals, bacteria can still harbor on the damaged surface.

Once the coating is chipped, it can also flake or continue to chip away and you want to avoid potentially swallowing a piece of it.

People like convenience and being dishwasher-safe is an important marketing consideration in today's cookware market. As such, many manufacturers market their pots and pans accordingly.

However, ceramic coatings are still among the less durable materials when compared to nonstick coatings or uncoated metals such as stainless steel. To keep your ceramic cookware in good condition, I would always recommend washing it by hand and non-metal scrubs - even when its marked as dishwasher safe.

Once a pot is chipped, there is no need to throw it away. You can still use it in your garden or patio for plants or as a decor item, bringing a little Mediterranean charm to your garden.

Overheating 

Overheating is the main enemy of many types of cookware. It's certainly true for nonstick and ceramic pots and pans.

Since ceramic cookware coatings are made of natural materials, the danger is not that they will leak or fume toxic chemicals (this might be true for some nonstick surfaces).

ceramic pan on fire

The biggest "danger" of overheating is actually targeted towards your purse. Overheating can cause the ceramic surface to discolor and lose its attractiveness.

It is also the main culprit behind losing the nonstick properties of the coating. Trust me, it's not fun when that happens as food will stick to the pan, and even cleaning it will be a challenge.

This is probably the reason behind most 1-star and 2-star complaints you can read from users - many of them not even realizing that they are the reason the pan suddenly stopped being nonstick.


Related Questions 

Is ceramic cookware toxic? 

No. If you are buying a ceramic pan now or have purchased one in recent years it should contain no harmful materials. Older ceramic cookware from the 1980s may contain higher levels of lead, cadmium, or other harmful additives.

Do ceramic pans cause cancer? 

No. Ceramic coatings are free of the chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) which has been found to cause a variety of cancers.

Is ceramic cookware better than Teflon? 

Yes and no. Ceramic coatings are made of natural materials and are an environmentally friendly alternative to Teflon and other nonstick coatings. On the other hand, Teflon is more durable - especially if the ceramic cookware is not used with care.

Ceramic coatings are made without any harmful additives, but modern Teflon coatings are also safe options. It's the old Teflon version that got a bad reputation, but the latest versions have improved a lot and usually do not contain any PFOA.

Is ceramic titanium cookware healthy? 

Ceramic titanium cookware usually refers to some brands that infuse their ceramic coating with titanium to make it more durable. These coatings are all modern creations adhering to strict safety standards and you can rest assured that they are a healthy cooking surface option.

Sean Bennett
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