Aluminum bakeware is not dangerous and can be safely used when proper precautions are taken. No need to fork out a bundle for stainless steel.
Part of being a savvy homemaker is knowing when to fork out the bucks for new kitchen equipment and when not to. That being said, I noticed a number of years ago that it can be rather costly to replace aluminum bakeware with enameled or stainless steel pans and for what?
Yes, aluminum is a toxic metal and you definitely don’t want it in your food for fear of long term health implications like Alzheimer’s Disease. But, that is no reason to toss out your perfectly good aluminum cookie sheets, cake pans, and muffin tins!
You see, aluminum, as it relates to bakeware, is only released if you scratch it. I remember this quite vividly from my university Chemistry class.
Therefore, when removing cookies and the like from your aluminum bakeware, just take care not to use metal utensils that can easily scratch the aluminum and release this metal into your food. Wooden spatulas would be the best choice for handling the food when working with aluminum.
There also is no risk from aluminum vapors when baking with aluminum bakeware. The heat used for at-home baking is not nearly high enough to cause inhalation dangers like what workers at aluminum factories experience.
Heating of aluminum must approach its melting point for vapors to be released (1220 F). My oven doesn’t even get that hot when on “self-cleaning” mode.
Using Aluminum Bakeware Safely
This same approach would be advised for aluminum foil. I see folks putting vegetables and butter in foil and wrapping it tightly to roast them .. all of which is perfectly safe. The problem arises when they open the foil after cooking and scrape the veggies into a bowl with a metal fork! This is a no-no. Make sure you use only wood or plastic utensils when dealing with foil!
Watch out for store-bought pie crusts that come in aluminum pie pans too. While there is nothing wrong with baking your pie in a decent quality pie crust from the health food store, it becomes a problem when you cut that pie with a metal knife that scratches the aluminum pie pan underneath the food!
I’ve been to many a potluck where I passed on eating a piece of pie from an aluminum pan that had been cut with a metal knife!
One last word of caution – watch out for ice cream machines. My Cuisinart ice cream machine has an aluminum interior as do many other models.
Again, this is fine and safe as long as you don’t use a metal spoon to scrape out the last bits of homemade ice cream that get stuck to the sides! A small wooden spatula or spoon works great here and will not scratch that aluminum in the least.
Options for Unsafe Aluminum Cookware
Of course, cookware is another issue entirely. Aluminum should be avoided in that case as cooking acidic foods in aluminum can leach the metal into the food.
Using fluoridated tap water in that aluminum pan leaches even more heavy metals into the food! (1)
Stainless steel cookware poses similar issues, although, for neutral pH or alkaline foods, it is fine. For acidic cooking, ceramic coated cast iron such as Le Creuset and Lodge are a good idea. I don’t recommend unenameled cast iron especially if there are adult males in the home.
Glass cookware is an excellent and very affordable option as well. Just be sure to get a brand tested to be lead-free.
Copper cookware is safe too, though it is rather pricey.
For longer cooking and acidic foods, such as tomato-based sauces or slow simmering of traditional bone broths, safe options include certified toxin-free clay pots (such as Vita-Clay), glass, or ceramic coated cast iron.
While convenient, stainless steel pressure cookers are not ideal for cooking acidic foods either.
While cookware is a bit tricky, as for bakeware, I still am using the same aluminum equipment I’ve used for years. What’s more, I have no plans to replace it with expensive stainless steel or any other material for that matter.
Teflon and Silicone a No Go for Cooking in Any Form
While it’s possible to salvage your aluminum bakeware (not cookware) and still use it safely, make sure you ditch all Teflon kitchenware. (2)
Most people don’t realize that the shiny pasta from the store was shaped in Teflon. This article explains how to identify healthy pasta shaped in traditional bronze dies instead of toxic Teflon.
Note that silicone for baking or cooking is unsafe too, so be sure to avoid that type of equipment as well. Silicone is fine for cold temperature uses, however, such as molds for candy or popsicles.