Is Silicone Cookware Safe to Use? 5 Facts You Need to Consider
You have probably done plenty of holiday baking and cooking this winter season, but how much thought have you given to the safety of silicone cookware? We have become quite familiar with silicone baking mats, pans, and cooking utensils. Not only are they a huge trend in the current culture, but they are also touted as a green way of baking.
Silicone cookware allows you to skip the aluminum foil or the parchment paper – that’s what silicone baking mats are for! Readily available for use and reuse, this silicone kitchenware comes highly recommended. Even though they are both cute and affordable, are silicone utensils safe for one’s health? Or should you be worried about it leaching into the food or offgassing into the air?
Is Silicone Cookware Safe?
Unfortunately, this simple question has quite an unsatisfying answer: It really depends on what we mean by silicone. To understand the answer, let us review several often-confused terms:
- Silicon – Is a natural chemical substance (atomic #14) that cannot be divided into smaller particles without splitting atoms. Second only to oxygen in terms of abundancy, silicon bonds with oxygen to create minerals called silicates (like jadeite, quartz, micas, olivine, and prehnite).
- Silica – Is a compound made of silicon and another element. According to recent research, it was found in the human body and it can be beneficial to health. It’s not the same as silicon or silicone, which is why this term is not relevant when talking about the safety of silicone cookware.
- Silicone – A synthetic polymer and the subject of our article, silicone results from adding carbon and/or oxygen to silicon. It can exist in various states (solid, liquid or gel) and we often use it for manufacturing medical devices like joint replacements, pacemakers, and implants. Generally considered safe for medical uses, silicone has gained new popularity in bakeware.
Silicone & Food
We now have our definitions sorted out. From now on, we shall refer only to silicone – the synthetic polymer – when we speak about cookware and bakeware. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), silicone is “approved as a food-safe substance” and considered generally inert. However, this doesn’t mean much, given that the FDA approves plenty of things that you wouldn’t want to eat.
The matter of fact is there hasn’t been much research on silicone cookware or silicone molds. Therefore, we might not have any evidence of its toxicity, but there’s also not much evidence regarding its safety. Still, almost all the sources online state that silicone is inert, doesn’t offgas chemical fumes, and doesn’t react with food or liquids.
While silicone may be safe at room temperature, there are no studies testing silicone’s reactions with food under heat. The claim that this substance is “nonreactive” is based solely on the fact that silicon (the chemical element) is “inert.” And if we are honest with ourselves, we admit that just because something is fairly stable in nature doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily cook in or eat on it.
Potential Dangers of Silicone in Cooking
With that said, here are some things to keep in mind next time you use your silicone cookware:
- Lower quality silicone coatings contain a type of filler that may be hazardous. Here is a good test for your silicone cookware: If any white shows through when you twist it, it probably contains fillers.
- While there isn’t any scientific on this, there is concern regarding the oils in silicone. Not only are they powerful and toxic, but they may “migrate” from the material into your food. Some sources also add concerns about bright colors that could leach.
- Odors during use could also be a potential problem. However, this is most likely related to the fillers, not the silicone. You probably noticed an odor or slight smoking occasionally (especially when oil hits the surface).
- The majority of silicone baking mats are in fact fiberglass covered with silicone. Do not cut the mats, unless you want to risk fiberglass in your food.
- Silicone is a reasonably new cookware material, so there are no long-term studies that prove silicone is safe when exposed to high temperatures over very long periods.
So is silicone cookware safe? The most honest answer is that it’s too soon to tell. However, there are three issues you should always take into account when making purchases for the kitchen.
Is It Safe?
Just because we do not have enough scientific studies to prove the food safety of silicone does not mean it is safe to use. There are already plenty of articles on the Internet that say little to nothing about the safety of silicone, so here are some practical steps to help you stay on the safe side of silicone:
- Check with your manufacturer for other materials that could contaminate your silicone bakeware.
- Treat your silicone cookware well! Avoid cutting on the cute baking mats.
- If you want to be really sure, you can skip silicone altogether and stick with cast iron, glass, or stainless steel for cooking and baking. Unbleached parchment paper is also useful if you need something flexible.
Is It Eco-friendly?
According to some sources, silicone is recycleable, which is great news. In addition, creating silicone cookware doesn’t take more energy than glass or mining metal for pots and pans. It’s also not toxic to soil or aquatic organisms. Therefore, Earth is just fine with you using silicone bakeware. In fact, it seems to be better than just about anything else out there, including Teflon.
Does It Create a Happy Kitchen Experience?
Other than when they get stained up, baking mats are great – for baking homemade crackers, cookies, and so much more. Similarly, the silicone “spoonula” has more than proved its worth in stovetop cooking. However, muffin cups, silicone pans, and loaf pans can also be a pain to wash (the “nonstick” claim leaves a lot to be desired).
Therefore, you should only invest in silicone cookware if it helps you in making food in an easy way. That is, until scientists make up their mind about its toxicity. For now, make sure you take good care of your silicone baking mats to keep on the safe side of things.