Kitchen gadgets are easy to stock up on and even easier to replace. But pots and pans are another story. For one thing, they’re expensive, and for another, even scratched or warped cookware will get the job done. It just won’t be a very good one.
“A lot of the longevity of your pots and pans depends on how well you’re cleaning and taking care of them,” says Melissa Maker, founder of Clean My Space housekeeping service in Toronto. “The better you take care of these items, the longer they’ll last. I’ve gone to antique shops and seen cast iron frying pans from the 1920s and 1930s that are still functional.”
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In addition to making sure your cookware is properly cleaned (and sanitized), Maker says to also be aware of the tools you’re using while cooking. Soft utensils made of wood or silicone are best to avoid scratching the lining of pots and pans, while metal is too abrasive and plastic can pose a risk due to melting.
If you have a pot or pan that is defective — one of the pieces is coming loose or it is somehow damaged — Maker says the warranty will likely cover a replacement item. And some even come with lifetime warranties.
“The good news is if your cookware is scorched or burned, or your cast iron pan has rust, these are all cleanable and fixable, so there’s no need to panic.”
However, some signs of damage can’t be fixed, and in fact, could pose a risk.
#1 Your cookware is warped
This won’t pose a health risk, but it could compromise the quality of your food.
“If your pan is heated to a high temperature and then cooled very quickly, like you’ve cooked eggs and then immediately taken the pan off the stove and put it in the sink with soap and water, the bottom can warp,” Maker says.
This can even happen to cast iron. She says to test it out, place your pan on a flat surface and press the handle up and down to see if it wobbles. If it does, that means the bottom is warped and you won’t get even heating when you’re cooking.
“If you don’t necessarily care about cooking or how your food comes out, then it’s no big deal. But if you’re passionate about cooking, this will result in an uneven cooking surface and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.”
#2 Your non-stick cookware is scratched
Chances are your favourite frying pan is non-stick, which also makes it your most frequently used. But it’s very easy for the surface of the pan to get scratched or scraped.
“With non-stick cookware, anytime you have a scratch inside, you want to get rid of it because the coating can start to flake off and it can land up in your food.”
At the very least, it will result in an unattractive dish with strange black bits floating around in it. More concerning, however, is that it could mean you’re ingesting a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, which has been linked to several types of tumours as well as toxic effects on the immune, liver and endocrine systems in animal studies.
#3 The core of your stainless steel cookware is showing
Ever notice how some stainless steel cookware is really heavy? That’s because the pots and pans have a thick base to help ensure steady, even cooking. But if the interior of your pot is so used that you can see the base, it’s time to replace it.
“Like a mattress that’s been sliced open and has stuffing and foam coming out of it, if you can see the core of your cookware, you need to throw it out,” Maker says. “Most of the time, it’ll be a copper base, so you’ll know when it’s visible.”
#4 Your cookware has loose, broken or melted handles
There are a number of reasons the handles of your cookware could show signs of wear and tear.
“If you’re using a pot or pan that doesn’t have an oven-safe handle, but you move it from the stove to the oven, the handle will melt and you need to get rid of that.”
Similarly, if you have a pan with a loose handle that can’t be secured with a screwdriver, it’s time to let it go. These items will inevitably pose a risk when you pick them up, setting the stage for you to injure yourself, or to spill or drop whatever is cooking inside.
#5 Your copper cookware is worn down
Copper is considered the ultimate cooking material because it ensures an even temperature and doesn’t require preheating or very high heat. Historians don’t know how long we’ve been cooking with copper, but there are artifacts that date back to 4600 B.C. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that we started lining our copper cookware with tin (in some cases, with stainless steel).
And while this is the choice of chefs, the lining of a copper pot or pan can crack or scratch, which can be dangerous.
The concern is that copper can leach into your food and build up over time, especially since the body isn’t very efficient in excreting copper. At its most dire, copper toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, metallic taste, and diarrhea.
A scratched or chipped copper pan or pot can be fixed, however. You’ll have to send it to a specialized artisan who can re-tin the interior. If, however, you don’t want to put in the time or money to have it fixed, it’s best to throw it out.