«

»

Nov 09

The skinny on lead in crock pots – It may surprise you!

crockpotI don’t like ambiguity, especially when it comes to the health of my children. So I was alarmed when I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer to the question: “Do modern-day crock pot glazes contain lead that can leach into my food?”

While lead in ceramics has been an issue for as long as we’ve known about lead poisoning, the crock pot debate heated up several years ago when KUTV newsman Bill Gephardt reported that many commonly-used kitchen products contain lead. One of the items highlighted in the article is a Rival brand crock pot.

The standards, and what’s wrong with them

I went to the FDA’s web site first to see what the actual regulations are about lead in crock pot glazes. Searching for “lead” on this site is not something I would recommend to anyone who worries about this type of thing–did you know they have regulations on what the acceptable amount of lead in candy can be? Like there is any acceptable amount of lead in candy. Holy sh!t.

After quite a bit of poking around, I did finally find what I believe to be the FDA guidelines that would mandate lead levels in both ceramic slow cooker/crock pot inserts, as well as other ceramic plates, cups, and pitchers. It appears that leach levels of 1 mcg/mL are acceptable. The problem with this, of course, is that it doesn’t appear to test things like heat, the acidity of the food, and length of contact with the surface, all of which could reasonably be expected to affect how much lead ends up in our food.

Clemson University’s Cooperative Extension attempts to allay consumer fears with the following information on lead in ceramics, but even it admits that there could be lead in crock pots, “Enamel-coated iron and steel is colorful, stain and scratch resistant and does not pick up food odors. It does not contain lead, except in some glazes for slow-cooking pots (crock-pots). However, the amount of lead leached into food from these pots does not exceed FDA standards.”

The problem with even a little lead leaching into your food (because, let’s be clear, the FDA standard allows for some lead to leach), according to Mayo Clinic, is “Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.” This means that while one serving of food prepared or served using ceramics that leach lead might not hurt much, over time the cumulative affect could cause lead poisoning.

Talking to crock pot manufacturers, or going down the rabbit hole

One concerned mama who knew that I have been investigating this issue asked me if there is such a thing as a lead-free crock pot. At this point in my research, I didn’t have an answer for her. So I decided to contact the manufacturers of the top five brands (based on Amazon.com search results, which I realize is not a scientifically air-tight method) and see what they had to say. Full disclosure: I didn’t call all of these folks because I literally lost my voice halfway through the research due to a nasty cold. So some companies got only an email, and some got both an email and a call.

Hamilton Beach

Hamilton Beach‘s web site has this to say about lead in its slowcookers:

Hamilton Beach specifications applicable to all slow cookers and their components (including the earthenware crocks) prohibits the product from containing any measurable amounts of lead. Furthermore, the factories that manufacture the earthenware crocks for Hamilton Beach are certified ceramic production facilities whose ceramic ware is deemed to satisfy FDA heavy metal requirements. Hamilton Beach takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the earthenware crocks accompanying our slow cookers provide safe and satisfactory service to our consumers.

One blogger has already contacted Hamilton Beach, who told her definitively that their crock pot glaze did not contain lead. The response I received to my inquiry, which mostly matched to what was on their web site, was slightly less reassuring:

Our product specifications require that all components in contact with food comply with US Food & Drug Administration “food-safe” requirements. The FDA requires that parts of food preparation products in contact with food do not leach lead above certain specified limits. The FDA does not require that a product in contact with food be “lead-free”. Our slow cookers have been tested by an independent laboratory and found to meet the FDA’s food-safe requirements; however, the unit is not “lead-free”.

West Bend

I couldn’t find any information on West Bend’s web site, so I called them directly. Their customer service department said that their crocks contain no lead. To be sure, I asked a clarifying question, “Do you mean it has no lead, or that it meets FDA standards?” She replied that they do not use any lead at all in their glaze. I suggested that they put this information on their web site because consumers would want to know.

Crock Pot & Rival

Crock Pot & Rival are actually owned by the same company, Jarden Consumer Solutions. When I phoned them, the very pleasant customer service representative’s first response was, “There can’t be lead in them.” I let him know about the FDA standards, and then he wasn’t so sure. He actually gave me the name and email address of someone in management to contact, and I have contacted him. The response I got does not reassure me:

Jarden Consumer Solutions (JCS) continues to proactively test its products for lead and other toxic metals, with the results continuing to come back favorably. Lead is not an additive in the Crock Pot slow cooker ceramic glaze. JCS is diligent in its efforts to ensure that its products are compliant with applicable regulations regarding the presence of lead.

Cuisinart

By the time I got to emailing Cuisinart, I knew more about what to ask. I focused my question to them on what safety measures and testing they undertake to prevent lead in their glazes from leaching into foods. I have not, at the time of writing, heard back from Cuisinart.

Contacting the manufacturers did little to allay my fears. Although the maker of my own crock pot (West Bend) assured me it was lead-free, the fact that other customer service reps I spoke or emailed with seemed unaware of the difference between “lead-free” and “FDA-compliant,” I knew I was going to have to take matters into my own hands.

When all else failed, I tested them myself!

Although various blogs and web sites mention this issue, I couldn’t find a broad review of the safety of crock pots, test results for lead, or satisfactory information from the manufacturers themselves. So I decided to contact some friends, get a selection of crock pots, and take them to WeeCycle Environmental Consulting down in Boulder, and have them surface tested with their XRF gun.

I quickly learned that a surface test using an XRF gun would not be a perfect indicator of crock pot safety. Jennifer from The Smart Mama told me exactly what is wrong with testing surface lead as a way of predicting how lead might move into food:

The FDA standards for lead in ceramics is a leachable lead standard, and the XRF measures total lead. So, I could find high levels of lead BUT the lead may not be leachable, which means that it wouldn’t migrate into food.

Basically, when the glazes are properly formulated and fired at a high temperature, the lead is sealed. However, if they are not properly prepared and fired, lead may leach into food stored in or on the ceramic ware.

Determined to get a true and accurate test of the risk of lead leaching into food, I found an inexpensive used Rival crock pot and planned to take a sample from it and have WeeCycle send it to the lab for a leach test (for obvious reasons, I didn’t want to take a chip out of my fairly new crock pot!). I ended up with quite a selection of crock pots, covering four of the five major brands (I couldn’t find anyone with a Cuisinart crock pot for some reason!) in several colors, since each color could have a slightly different chemical make-up. I think the wonderful ladies at WeeCycle were a bit surprised when I schlepped them all down to their office this morning to do the XRF test.

WeeCycle's XRF tester, who asked to remain unnamed, testing the crock pots, inside and out!

WeeCycle's XRF tester, who asked to remain unnamed, testing the crock pots, inside and out!

The results absolutely caught me off guard. Not one of the crock pots we tested had any lead in it at all. We tested each crock pot twice and threw a couple of red herrings (a dish made in China and some tiles from Italy that the WeeCycle staff keep in the office because they know they have lead in them) just to make sure that the XRF was working correctly.

Obviously, I did not test every crock pot on the market, nor can testing half a dozen crock pots on a single day account for things like a bad (read “lead-laden”) batch of glaze or a new color that uses slightly different chemicals. Some of the manufacturers themselves certainly seem to be leaving the door open for using lead in the glaze if they need to. But we tested the following crocks this morning and, again, they showed ZERO lead:

  • West Bend – black
  • Rival – black
  • Rival – dark green
  • Rival – beige
  • Rival – white
  • Hamilton Beach – white
  • Crock pot – black

Being a natural skeptic, I have to admit this was not what I was expecting to discover. I didn’t even get to smash the stylin’ $5 beige Rival crock pot I bought just for that purpose because there’s no point in doing a leach test on a crock that contains no lead to begin with. My frustration that the FDA has a standard (or many, actually) that I do not believe is actually safe, and that manufacturers do not arm their telephone representatives with accurate, detailed information to answer consumer questions about safety aside, I feel a fair level of comfort with the results of this test, and with continuing to use my crock pot to cook things that I might otherwise have bought in BPA-laden cans. Woot.

79 comments

11 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. luana

    l just read that we should also test our soil, the dust in our homes – the list is long – see website link below.

    Lead is really everywhere – takes the joy out of life – but at least we are aware – as far as crock pots and ceramic imports I just read that Canada is fairly strict …. see site below

    http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/consumer-consommation/home-maison/cook-cuisinier-eng.php

    that does not help with the rest of the items like floor tiles, bathroom tiles, pipes and metal blinds – I have for a long time held my sweater or jacket over my nose when filling up at the pumps – I am not sure if this helps but it might cut down some of the lead I breathe in

    I believe the list is very long from what I have now read up on…

    Also I do metal cleansing with clean chlorella – why clean?? because many chlorellas have contaminants including metal – even the so called “organic” chlorella
    I found a clean chlorella at http://www.naturalnews.com
    I also found a doctor that sells (most likely) the best metal cleanse (expensive) – based in Florida
    called “metal free”

    hopes this info helps moms that have children with heavy metal toxicity – seems like we all do nowadays

    sorry for all this posting
    but I was needing answers myself and then thought of the metal cleansing I had and am doing myself
    and that it might help others

    luana

  2. luana

    BTW
    now suddenly I want to test the tiles in my entery way bathrooms and kitchen (where I walk barefoot on!!)
    how about the blinds??
    I have two inch metal blinds that I touch and clean – which could also have lead
    what about the metal pipes in the house? the kitchen faucette and the bathroom faucette etcetera.
    I can see where the kit will be handy

    luana

  3. luana

    OK – thank you for your comments

    I ordered the test kits from Abotex – Also I spoke to the owner of Abotex (the lead testing kits) today (1 800 268-5323) and he mentioned that a good in home test for lead…

    Would be to fill the crock pot with white vinegar (sounds expensive) and wait minimum 4 – 12 hours – and use his kit to test the vinegar…

    http://www.leadinspector.com/learn/how-to-use/

    I suggested to the owner of the Abotex testing kits that Kombucha when made is fairly acidic and maybe it would be a good idea to test the Kombucha as well first before buying up enough vinegar to test all the ceramic glazed crock pots in the house ?

    The test works by just rubbing an item with the test liquid on a q-tip – but with the crock pots acidic food such as Kombucha – tomato sauce etc. can cause lead to leach through the glaze into the food (that is if there is any lead in the crock pot or whatever we are worried about)

    He was not sure about testing the Kombucha (maybe he was not sure what Kombucha was) but that’s how my mind works – if the Kombucha sits in the crock pot for 8 – 10 days – my thinking was that by then lead should show up if there is any lead in the crock pot…
    Also I thought possibly just putting in enough vinegar to cover half way up the crock pot might be enough to test it as if there is any lead it should show up in even a half filled crock pot with vinegar as it was made of the same clay throughout? I am just thinking out loud here…

    I will be testing it anyway once the kit arrives at my door – it would cost a fair bit to fill up 3 crock pots with white vinegar – so maybe half way up would be sufficient?

    I would need about 430 ounces of white vinegar to fill them all up…
    then we are supposed to use the kit to test the vinegar after about 4 hours (can be left longer to make sure)

    I might just do both for peace of mind

    both the white vinegar test and the Kombucha test

    Luana

  4. admin

    Yes, acidic foods are more likely to leach than non-acidic foods. But there are plenty of crocks out that that are lead and cadmium free. As a first step, I would test the one you have. If it’s lead/cadmium-free, you know you can make your Kombucha (and anything else in it) without worrying about leaching.

    Bonnie, I wish had information for you on made in USA, lead/cadmium free crock pots, but I just do not know. There are plenty of items coming out of Mexico and China that are safe, and many others that are not. Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.

  5. luana

    I make a lot of home made Kombucha that is wonderful and full of probiotics B vitamins and amino acids and glutathione etc.
    but I make it in my crock pots – above there was a comment by Darrell that it is acid – I suppose tomato sauce or tomato soups or Kombucha that would cause a Crock pot to leach lead?? Not necessarily just heat… I read
    a warning on a Kombucha site to not use a crock pot because it might leach lead – but if there is no lead in
    a Crock pot then possibly it is not a worry??
    I wonder if there are any other contaminants that acidic food could pull out?

    I am worried now as I use crock pots to make sauerkraut and kombucha as well

  6. Bonnie

    I had just bought a crock pot but it says it’s made in Mexico, which now I am concerned about after reading comments. I brought home a calphalon too to check out, but found it was from China so both are going back. I would rather one made in USA with no lead, so where would I find this? The issue isn’t the FDA numbers but what was said earlier that it is the build up in the body. We have enough issues with the heavy metals we consume each day without adding lead to the mix. I have an infant grandson now and don’t want to take any chances with him. Any suggestions on what ones made in USA that are safe and work well? Bravo to your hard work and Perseverance in this matter. I wasn’t aware of any of this.

  7. Pat

    I wonder if those portable single cooktops on which you set the desired temperature would not be a good solution. You provide your own cooking vessel (one approved for this type of heating). I believe you can use stainless steel tri-ply, or a porcelain coated iron like Le Crueset.

    Sorry I can’t recall the name of these, but, I know they make complete cooktops, as well. (It almost seems along the lines of a Sous Vide but, doesn’t use water).

    I hope my favorite Le Crueset pots and pans are free of harmful materials. Anyone have any information on this?

    Thank you so much for this information.

    Best Wishes,

    Pat

  8. Amanda

    Thank you for doing this testing, it made me breathe a sigh of relief to read. My crockpots are indispensable and I would hate to think that a kitchen tool I’ve used so much was harming my family.

  9. Frances

    Regarding “white stains:” This sounds l like mineral accumulation from water and/or food. As far as I know it’s not dangerous. If that’s what it is you could remove (or at least reduce) it by soaking it in vinegar. But I’d just leave it alone. –Frances

  10. admin

    The best way to know for sure if there is lead present in your crock pot is to get it tested. At the time that I wrote this article in 2009, I was testing new ones (<5 years old) and an older model that looked like it was 20+ years old. So it’s possible that your Rival is of similar age to the ones I actually tested. That said, I wouldn’t assume a similar brand crock pot of a different color or even from a different manufacturing batch in the same color is lead free just because the ones I tested were.

  11. Lisa

    I appreciate your effort for testing the crock pots. Reading your report, two questions came to my mind:
    1- How old are we talking about when we say the old ones?
    2- I have a Rival that is at least 10 years old but it is kind of brown. Should I be concerned?

    Thanks,

  12. admin

    The web site doesn’t specify which particular toxin necessitated the Prop 65 warning, but it certainly doesn’t sound good. It’s really quite easy to XRF test for lead and the beauty of this test is that it doesn’t just test for surface lead, but any lead in the crockery at all. So if it tests zero, you can be sure that no lead will end up in your food. That said, there are other heavy metals that sometimes contaminate glazes, so just because there’s no lead doesn’t mean that the crock pot is 100% safe. Best of luck!

  13. Melinda

    I accidentally came upon a review about a certain “new” crock pot because I am looking for one to buy. This review said he saw a “prop 65″ warning at target on a crock pot. Yes there is. The link is below. I found the crock pot. Does that warning mean lead?

    http://www.target.com/p/crock-pot-oval-4-qt-red/-/A-10025827#prodSlot=medium_1_20&term=crock+pots

    Now I am not sure which to get. I had a crock pot for over 20 years. Did not use it that much. I bet it had lead in it.

  14. jonathan

    Thank you for your diligence and for sharing, I still have reservations about using my crock pot brand crock pot because it has a persistent white discoloration throughout the ceramic insert up to the typical food level. The white chalky residue seems to concentrate in a pattern consistent with invisible cracks in the glaze. The residue seems to disappear when wetted and reappears when dry, it can be mostly scrubbed away with severe and intensive scrubbing with a scouring pad but reappears after the next usage. Could this be simple lime buildup or is it possible that this is lead residue leaching out of the clay and/or glaze? If the pot were to contain lead, could it be in such quantities as to leach visibly and persistently onto the surface as described? How common is a visible lime buildup on ceramic inserts?

  15. Tracey B

    This was a small sampling of crocks. The studies done on a larger scale found about 20% of the crocks had lead. I think the purpose was to enlighten people about the difference between lead free and what passes under the FDA, encourage people to perhaps get theirs tested or buy one that is actually lead free. I do not think this was meant to certify anything she tested means all of the crocks made by those companies are lead free. But it does encourage people to be aware and do their homework.

  16. Tamara Rubin

    I have tested quite a few crockpots with my XRF (modern crockpots) that have tested positive for trace levels of lead – photos can be found on my facebook page: http://wwww.facebook.com/MisLEADMovie

    I am making a film about childhood lead poisoning and the trailer can be seen on my website (for those who are interested) – link below.

    Tamara Rubin
    http://www.TamaraRubin.com

  17. John

    This is great and the comments are helpful as well. Here is my dilemma. I live in europe and found a Crock-Pot (Jarden) brand slow cooker that allows you to use the stoneware directly on the stove to sear meat before slow cooking. This model is not available in the US, though! (SCVI600BS is the model number) I contacted customer service to find out if the stoneware had some kind of non-stick coating and they insisted that there is no coating material. Now, after having contacted them about this, the EU websites (crockpoteurope.com and crockpot.co.uk) now state that this model has a non-stick coating. So, now that my lead fears have been alleviated, now I have to deal with the fact that this model might have some sort of teflon-like non-stick coating which could cause health issues. Should I try to return this in exchange for another model that is not suitable for using on the stove? I find it interesting that this model was formerly available in the US but not any more. In reality, Crock Pot USA doesn’t offer any models that can use the stoneware directly on the stove, whereas in Europe there are two models.

    Any suggestions as to what to do here?
    thanks,

    John

  18. Claudia

    Thank you for doing this! I just bought a new Crock-Pot and was worried about the possibility of lead.

  19. Andrea Kargbo

    The problem here is not the lead that is going to rub away from the outer surface, but the chemically bound lead that will leach into the food. It is a chemical process where the lead used as part of the raw material (that is now bound chemically) reacts with the food being cooked and leaches into it, With heat acting as a catalyst. The only way to test the presence of lead here is to send the food to a lab for testing. Most cookware manufacturers have lead in them and if it was easy as lead rubbing off from the surface, then FDA would not have approved so many of them. So that’s really not the problem. The problem is with this other kind of lead that is harder to detect. I use MEC Pure-Clay cooking pots… they are just awesome. I’ve used them on my stove top and in my slow cooker. They have NO-lead or any other heavy metals; they are made from pure-mineral rich clay that is tested to ensure the raw material is indeed pure. Also, they’re made in the USA. You should check them out, I would highly recommend that be a part of every healthy kitchen. thanks Andrea.

  20. Mary

    Thank you for your thoroughness and the helpful information.
    What’s the current, updated information re: lead-free crock-pots/glazes?

  21. Janis

    There are also lots and lots of water crocks out there. And when looking at them on websites, they don’t say whether they are lead free or not. So lots of folks might be thinking they are getting good water, but a bit of lead with it. The ones that I have queried they have not responded if their product contains lead.

  22. Sharon

    Thank you for all of your efforts! I came across the title worried that my crockpot was a danger- and you went through all this work and convinced me that yes- the crock is a wonderful kitchen tool! Thank you! I do really appreciate all of the hours that you put into this project! ;-)

  23. Kristel Wolf

    Thank you so much for researching this!! =)

  24. Merrill

    @ Dawn and Erica

    I have been a potter and also in the commercial housewares industry for many years.

    Many years ago lead was added to glazes as a way to yield very bright colors. It has not been used in functional ware for almost 50 years and to find a crockpot with lead bearing glaze would be extremely improbable. Manufacturers of ceramic/porcelain are VERY aware of safety standards and never use or purchase glazes that contain materials known to be toxic when fired.
    it is NOT HEAT but ACID in food that causes lead to leach out into the food. If the glaze has not been mixed with lead, there is nothing to leach out.
    You may test tableware at home by pouring in white vinegar and check back after 24 hours…If the bowl color has changed, leaching has occurred. Don’t use with food!
    I would not be concerned except with products from Mexico, China or Africa. That test will reveal.

    Erica, I am certain clay does not contain lead….the issue has always been dangerous substances added to the glaze.

  25. Dawn

    Ok, this is good to know. Thanks! To sum up (and correct me if I am wrong), sounds like there may have been lead in the glazes or clay of some crockpots years back (and there may some today that still do), but that most companies are testing lead-free for glazes. Yet the clay in the crockpots may have traces of lead from contamination that would leech only in the case of faulty manufacturing. Hence, the companies cannot claim that their products are 100% lead free due to possible traces of lead in the clay. But there might still be the issue of zinc or other toxic materials leeching? Sounds like I will use my crockpot sparingly and on low for a limited time. Any more research with lead or zinc findings would be helpful!

  26. admin

    Dawn, I don’t really know anything about that, but the beauty of XRF testing is that it detects the presence of any lead in or under the glaze. If there’s no lead in the thing, then there’s no lead that can leach out when it’s heated :) And I agree with Erika that lead contaminating organic materials used in the glaze is the most likely reason for lead contamination in most cookware. But I also do think it would be possible for manufacturers to XRF test every single glazed item they produce (imagine an XRF machine as the last step in the assembly line) as part of quality control. They inspect items for other (aesthetic) flaws, why not also test for the deadly ones?

  27. Dawn

    I have just read that it will not release lead unless heated. Therefore, the governmental standards get away with it because the items tested are off. Please comment.

  28. Erika

    There is no love lost between me and corporations, but this notion that companies are “leaving the door open” to use lead in the future is ridiculous. The more likely explanation is that because clay and glaze are organic materials, it is impossible for them to claim definitively that no crock pot has contained or ever will contain lead due to natural variations in the materials. If they did claim that, they would open themselves up to lawsuits.

  29. Rosie

    What test do you recommend to do lead testing? Can you give a name and instructions?

  1. Quick and Easy Slow Cooker Pot Roast (that doesn't make a ton!) | Health, Home, & Happiness (tm)

    […] (concerned about lead in crock pots? Check out this link here to learn more about a mom who tested them) […]

  2. Is Your Slow Cooker Lead Free? | Paleo Lifestyle Magazine

    […] stories. (Not that this would have done me any good since some folks’ testing found no lead in a bunch of slow cookers and other folks’ testing did find […]

  3. A Simple Weekday Meal: Slow Cooked Chicken in a Tomatillo Salsa Verde - My Humble Kitchen

    [...] insert of the slow cooker. I had the same questions when I first heard about this issue; however, after reading this post a couple of years back, I felt confident in my [...]

  4. Crock Pots, Lead, and Food Safety « My Cranky Gut

    [...] then I came across a different article. The skinny on lead in crock pots – It may surprise you! This blogger, having been unable to find any reliable or original data on the issue, took a very [...]

  5. Get the Most Out of Your Meals By Slow Cooking » Paleo Pregnancy Guide

    [...] on PaleoHacks posted a question about lead in slow cookers. A link to one blogger who tested several popular crock pot models found that they were lead-free. Although she tested [...]

  6. Get the Most Out of Your Meals By Slow Cooking | Paleo Pregnancy Guide

    [...] on PaleoHacks posted a question about lead in slow cookers. A link to one blogger who tested several popular crock pot models found that they were lead-free. Although she tested [...]

  7. The Great Crock Pot Lead Debate |

    [...] And the results? Both my crock pots tested negative for lead. Yippee!!!  Now I can use them without concern. If you want to set your mind at ease, head on over to your local Lowes and pick up a kit.For more information and more testing results, see this post from Terminal Verbosity. [...]

  8. Is There Lead in Slow Cookers and is it Getting into Your Food? – Women's Voices for the Earth

    [...] individuals have taken up the cause and done their own testing.  See here for one person who found no lead in the slow cookers [...]

  9. Q & A: February 5, 2012 | CHEESESLAVE

    [...] an interesting post I found a while back: The Skinny on Lead in Crock Pots: It May Surprise You. The author said that she had a bunch of crocks pots tested and NONE of them had [...]

  10. Can’t Keep Up? Three Ways to Simplify Making Stock | Cooking Traditional Foods

    [...] someone asked me about lead in slow cookers.  The conversation led to someone pointing out a post on Terminal Verbosity where the author had multiple crock-pots from multiple brands tested.  None of them tested [...]

Comments have been disabled.