The Detroit Post
Monday, 25 October, 2021

Is A Rusty Cast Iron Skillet Safe

David Lawrence
• Tuesday, 29 December, 2020
• 8 min read

While tetanus is a potentially fatal infection of the nervous system, it's caused by bacteria (spores of the bacterium Clostridium retain, to be specific), not by rust itself. So if for some strange reason your bakeware has been exposed to those particular elements (and if you're not up to date on your tetanus vaccinations) it's probably better to replace the rusty item outright.

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“I am not aware of any studies showing any significant health issues associated with eating food prepared in rusted cookware, but why take the risk?” This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses.

Fast-forward a couple millennia, and we’ve been thrust into the “Spend all day on the Internet Age”. This provides evidence for its lack of obvious harm, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s totally safe.

And it's actually pretty soft, so not great for making pans without adding in some carbon for hardening. But still, around 97-98% of a cast iron pan is plain of’ iron, which is why we’re so interested in its health effects.

Our discussion also applies to carbon steel cookware (such as woks), which is made up of 99% iron. Other than being such an important material for making pans and skyscrapers, iron is also an essential dietary mineral.

Some will see this as a good thing, especially considering that 1.6 billion people around the world are anemic, with iron deficiency being the main cause. Too much iron has been linked to a wide variety of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and colorectal cancer to name just a few.

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There’s a couple groups of people who don’t have to worry quite as much about iron overload though: menstruating women and vegetarians/vegans. But for others, especially those who regularly eat red meat, it doesn’t take much to push yourself into excess iron territory.

Out of all the micronutrients, iron may be the riskiest to supplement with, due to a higher chance of overloading. Excess iron levels are linked to a wide variety of serious health conditions.

For the nearly one million Americans who have hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition that typically emerges in adulthood where you absorb too much dietary iron, the risk is much more serious. Note that while regular blood donation helps both you and others, and is quite effective at normalizing iron levels according to a randomized trial, it's not always well tolerated.

It’s easy to build up too much iron, from a combination of fortified foods, supplements, and red meat. Two ways to mitigate this build up are donating blood and adding in iron -absorption inhibitors to the diet.

We’re talking a pretty decent amount of iron, depending on the condition of your cast iron pan, and what specifically you’re cooking. Three other factors that cause more leaching are: using liquid, increased cooking time, and mixing the food more often.

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Cast iron pans can leach a sizeable amount of iron into your food, exceeding dietary intake in some cases. Some of you may be wondering why cast iron (and carbon steel) are uniquely susceptible to this leaching process.

While iron overload is a risk that applies to many millions of people, a far smaller number of people are allergic to nickel and chromium, and both of these metals can theoretically leach from stainless steel pans. For people with severe nickel or other metal allergies, an enameled pan may be a safe bet.

Stainless steel doesn’t leach much iron, due to its protective shield of chromium oxide. But it may still leach small amounts of other metals such as nickel, which some people have allergic reactions to.

One is that you could drop a heavy pan onto your foot or hurt your wrist maneuvering it around. The other possible danger is only theoretical at this point: the risk from eating tiny bits of flaked-off seasoning from the pan’s surface.

Well, cast iron pans can easily collect moisture and develop rust. To prevent that, and also get a nice non-stick finish, you have to season the pan with oil rich in polyunsaturated fats.

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When exposed to high heat, on top of iron which acts as a catalyst, the unsaturated fatty acids oxidize then polymerize into a coating that fills in pores, and then further heating carbonizes/hardens the coating. You have to keep adding thin layers of fat over time to get that perfect seasoning, since attempting to add one thick layer all at once will result in a greasy pan, with largish pieces chunking off.

The seasoning layer comprises broken down then polymerized unsaturated fatty acids. Multiple thin layers of seasoning built up over time are a sign of a well-used and largely non-stick cast iron pan.

Would small amounts of these hypothetical byproducts even be of concern, given the natural antioxidant defenses our bodies employ? The flaxseed oil seasoning on your cast iron pan may be oxidized, but it’s not rancid.

This may seem confusing at first, since all the double bonds in a bottle of flaxseed oil mean that it can go rancid easily, when not refrigerated. But when you season your pan using flaxseed oil and heat, the double bonds don’t get randomly attacked.

It’s a delicate game -- gently heating a pot of flaxseed oil would be a recipe for rancidity, but doing it in a thin layer with the help of a really hot iron pan and air … that creates the oh-so-useful seasoning. But if you want to get really up in arms about seasoning, you’d better make sure to also stay away from other heated foods that contain known carcinogens, like the acrylamide in browned potatoes and in breakfast cereals, hetero cyclic amines in cooked meat, etc.

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You don’t have to boil or steam all your foods in order to live a long and healthy life. The risks, if any, of eating tiny amounts of seasoning every day for years is unknown.

Over the years, that adds up to a lot of exposure to whatever the pan gives off. It’s cheap, it can and will last a lifetime and get better with age, and you can safely throw it into a super hot oven.

All that heavy iron also means that these pans retain heat really well, so they excel in tasks like searing a thick and juicy steak. Another benefit is that the fairly-nonstick nature of cast iron pans will still allow it to develop a “fond” (which is French for “base” or “foundation”) on the bottom, if you happen to enjoy making delicious fond-based sauces.

On the con side, cast iron is extremely heavy and not that easy to take care of (at least until it’s older and well-seasoned). If you make a tomato sauce using a cast iron pan, and it tastes weird, there’s a chance the leached iron is the culprit.

Again, seasoned pans are your friend, both for non-stick purposes and for avoiding off-tastes in cooked food. It doesn’t leach anything under normal heart conditions, and even ingesting tiny amounts of Teflon shouldn’t really harm you, since it’s inert.

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Eating bits of oxidized oil every day might seem unwise, but a perhaps more likely detriment is getting too much iron, especially when using a newer or less-seasoned pan. The decision to choose cast iron or a different cooking material depends on a variety of personal preferences, including risk aversion, what you enjoy cooking with, and what you already own. Whether you inherited vintage cast iron covered in rust or forgot to dry your skillet after washing, we'll show you a few simple steps that will restore your cookware to like-new condition.

Follow these five easy steps to restore cast iron cookware to its former glory. Follow these simple steps to refurbish your cast iron finish, and you'll be cooking for decades to come.

Scour the rusty sections with steel wool or the Lodge Rust Eraser. You can place it on the stove top on low heat for a few minutes to make sure it's completely dry.

Add a very thin layer of cooking oil to the entire surface of your cast iron with a cloth or lint-free paper towel. This will happen if too much oil is used to season your cast iron or if you didn’t heat it for a long enough time.

If your cast iron still looks dull after re-seasoning it, repeat the process until it achieves a slight sheen. Chat with, call, or email our friendly Customer Care Associates.

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I noticed that the tips were a little rusted but I decided to cook a one pot chicken and rice dish in it any way. I searched around on the web a bit and couldn't really get a straight answer about eating rust.

Rust is insoluble in water without acid present, and in order to become soluble you have to convert to iron nitrate, sulfate, or chloride, according to the solubility table. I found a source quoting specific numbers for iron from cast iron cookware, if you are concerned.

Iron in this form is insoluble and will, I assume, pass through the digestive system. There is a hereditary condition called haemochromatosis where iron accumulates in the body.

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