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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

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  1. John Weissman

    Great stuff, especially the self-sponsered testing! Thanks much. I didn’t think the glaze has lead, but my Crock Pot after only a few months of use–I use it alot–has what seems to be a wearing down of the glaze, and the surface has become somewhat porous. I am concerned about lead in the material under the glaze … Well, stainless is the “answer”–I hope! My attitude about lead in cookware: ZERO TOLERANCE.

  2. meg

    great work! thank you!!

  3. cathy

    What about a West Bend Crockpot (white insert) that has a lot of grey scratches inside? I’ve been nervous about using it.

  4. Julianna

    I have done some more research!
    Anchor Hocking is completely and totally lead-free. And all of the ingredients used in the “pot-ash” are melted at such a high temp that they bond to and become part of the structure of the glass and there is NO leaching… Yay! and it’s American Made!

    @Lamb Chop… I was so upset by what you said about the Jarden Corp, I contacted them directly… (I got the same answer from AGC)
    Dear Julianna B:
    We appreciate your message and the opportunity to assist. There is a cold end coating of polyethylene applied to the outside of all glass containers to help prevent breakage when being conveyed down the manufacturing, packaging and filling lines. This is practiced by all glass manufacturers on all glass bottles/containers. So any glass bottle/container with food or beverage products has this type of coating applied to the outside.

    This coating is not applied to the inside.

    We hope this is helpful and thank you for contacting us.

    Sincerely,
    Consumer Affairs
    Jarden Home Brands

  5. admin

    Nicolas, of course there is no way for one person to test every crock pot on the market–the best I could do was to test my own and a selection borrowed from friends in the community. Even if I had tested every available brand, I think it’s very likely that the lead content could vary within the same make and model based on the particular batch of glaze and/or masonry used.

    My hope is that other people will test their crock pots and post their results just as Insightful Nana, myself, and others have. If we can’t get a straight answer about safety from the manufacturers, then we need to share our experiences consumer-to-consumer in order to help keep these harmful contaminants out of our foods and our bodies…

  6. Nicolas Holzapfel

    How do you account for conflicting test results such as this: http://insightfulnana.com/home-garden/housekeeping-home-garden/lead-poisoning-and-crock-pots/html

    Isn’t it possible that only a small % of crock pots contain lead and your test sample wasn’t large enough to include one?

  7. admin

    Laura, yes, I’d be interested to know about the REALLY old ones too. We got one fairly old one at a thrift store, but that was all we could find and even it was 80s, not 70s.

    Kathleen, I’m pretty sure they were all either made in China or made with glazes and materials that came from China–it just seems to be the way things are these days. I live in Finland now and just bought myself a new crock pot (because we’re on 220 electricity over here, so my 110 American one doesn’t work here!) and guess what? It’s made in China too :(

    Thanks for all the comments and feedback on this post, everyone! I never thought I’d be answering questions about it 2.5 years later! :) Julie

  8. kathleen

    Many thanks to all of you concerned moms and grandmoms out there who are vigilant about keeping as many toxins as possible OUT of the food we feed our families!!! And, special thanks to “admin” for digging deeply into this issue and actually conducing her own research. Bravo! Frankly, I never trust the manufacturer because they dissemble so much in their answers to CTB (cover their behinds).

    Question to admin: were the crocks you tested made in China? I’ve never seen a crock that wasn’t made in China, but I haven’t actually done an exhaustive survey!

    Question to anyone: has anyone ever tested a Hamilton Beach black oval (recent make)? I just bought one yesterday to place my old Rival that is 20 years old. I’m wondering if we’ve already eaten all the lead in that one, so maybe it’s safer than a new one?

  9. Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares

    Thanks for posting this. From the color selections, it sounds like you had some newer slow cookers, and two from the late 1980s to mid ’90s. I’d be interested to know about the brown ones from the 1970s.

  10. admin

    I can’t find any information one way or the other about canning jars being coated in polycarbonates. Many of my jars are quite old, given to me by a neighbor, so hopefully they predate this practice, but it’s definitely worth investigating.

    I have been pleased so far with my Tattler reusable canning lids–they are BPA free and reusable (double bonus): http://www.reusablecanninglids.com/

  11. lamb chop

    Jarden is the marvelous company making your canning jars, sprayed with polycarbons (plastics and hardeners) without telling us, for years…and refusing to take BPA out of the lids. I just won’t use them. If we all voted with our dollars….with all of their arms of business—yeah, it would make a dent.

    aren’t those inert jars shiny these days!! :)

    I know, I am not posting the footnotes, but they took the patent information off the internet just last week or so. I know! But it can be searched in the us patent offices, look for cornings’s patent on this, it was very clear, and a list at the end of all the different chemicals they want to use to do this, lots of combinations. Their web sites still say, only 3 inert ingredients in glass——they don’t mention the coating that allows you to safely “bounce” your jars :) Try a gallon jar you use for kombucha and kefir water….feeleellllll the rubbery-ness?

  12. Monica

    I just called West Bend and they told me that there is lead in the clay. The glaze they use is lead-free. The glaze seals the lead and does not let any lead to be leached into food. BUT if there are cracks or if there are areas where the glaze created bubbles when being fired and you can see the clay, even tiny ones like mine, lead will leach.

    Did you ever asked for how long would lead leach? My crockpot is 6 years old, but hasn’t been used that much. I wonder if all the lead has been leached out already….

  13. Becky Leppard

    Your article is very interesting and helpful. Thanks for doing all this research and posting your results.

  14. Tina

    I am not willing to take a chance anymore on those crockpots. Many of the models you tested were new or newer. What happens when they age and develop nearly invisible hairline cracks in the glaze? Do you really want to risk your families health? During my research, I found this crockpot that has an unglazed clay liner: http://www.amazon.com/SPT-SC-5355-Zisha-Slow-Cooker/dp/B0036704M8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1320890670&sr=8-2. Home Depot carries it too. The manufacturer guarantees it is lead-free. The clay liner might be a little tougher to clean, but worth it.

  15. admin

    Thank you to everyone who has weighed in on this issue. This post was never meant to be an all-encompassing post on crock-pot safety. Instead, I just shared the results of the small-scale tests I did after receiving unsatisfactory answers from the crock-pot manufacturers I contacted when trying to figure out if the crock pots my friends and I had purchased contained lead.

    I encourage people to do their own research, and share it with the public, because that’s the only way awareness is going to be raised, especially when manufacturers are not required by law to publish detailed safety information. We can hope that some day, there will be more stringent regulations so that we won’t have to rely on blogs and individuals for this type of information.

  16. Kim

    I have a Kenmore crockpot purchased 2 years ago. Where does that fit in this mess of crockpots & lead?

  17. Charles Michael Archangel

    So now we are to believe whatever the FDA tells us, we are to believe the author of this article, and we are to believe the results of his tests. I will not. The manufactorers of this cook ware know there is a problem. I want to see their tests.

  18. meg

    crazy stuff we put in the things we manufacture. Thank you for all the research, I”m getting ready to graduate and buying kitchen related items. On a small budget it’s nice to be able to get at least a few things that are lead free! Or lead safe!

  19. April

    Thank you for your info on Crockpots.
    I know you have put allot of time into this.

    That said, I do not understand how this is the only site that says all these old and new Crock pots do not have any lead in them!
    And everyone here is believing it , like its the Gospel! (so to speak)

    Some of you with the Rival might want to do some of your own research,as Rival will not give a answer. They just say, it meets the standards, and do not want to really comment about the lead in there Rival crockpots.

    If anyone is really concered about the Lead content, please do more research, and do not believe one person.
    Although I’m sure she means well, and has put allot of work and time on Lead content.
    Its not the last word in Crockpots with lead.

    We are bombarded by lead in dishes, cookware, food etc.
    I have also thought about resturant food,and what its cooked in!

    I know we al want to believe our crockpots are safe, BUT!!!

  20. admin

    I definitely think tests for other heavy metals would be a good idea. But I think it will be a while before I’m able to do this work myself–just after I wrote this post, my husband lost his job and I temporarily went back to work full-time. Now he’s employed again, but we’ve moved to Finland! No more local connection with all the testing equipment…

  21. Rachel

    I’m so grateful that you did this testing and shared it on your blog!
    I was wondering if you ever did any further testing on other toxins as the previous poster suggested?

  22. Sally Goldin

    Do you know if the tests were done while the crockpot was heated? I read somewhere (don’t remember where) that you can’t detect the lead if the glaze isn’t heated up. Do you know anything about that?

    My crock pot just developed a leak and I want to get another one ASAP, so am very interested in this issue.

    Thanks!
    Sally

  23. Alicia

    Thank you so very much. I truly appreciate that you did all this research. Thank you….thank you. :)

  24. lydia

    This is awesome!! Thanks for sharing all the research you did on this!!

  25. carol

    Responding to Jill, I also had a metallic taste in my food- mostaccioli after a slow bake in the crock pot. The kids would not eat it.
    It was a Hamilton Beach white crock. After reading many of your comments, I think I will throw out our crocks. Have a young son who is having some learning disabilites, and want to eliminate all potential toxic sources. Scary stuff.

  26. admin

    If there had been lead detected with the XRF machine, my next step would have absolutely been a leach test. However, there was no lead. No lead in the item means that there is no possibility of lead leaching into the food. It can only leach if it is present to begin with…

    That said, I do think it’s worth testing leaching of other materials such as zinc and cadmium, since the XRF test I did was only for lead….Everything I read, however, indicated that the leach tests available to consumers have a very broad margin of error, so I may see about getting a leach test done for these other materials in a lab so that we can count on the results a bit more than a home test.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  27. Barbara Forth

    Thank you so much TVelocity for the research you did. I am grateful and relieved, but must admit too being still a little sceptical. I’m with Cate about boiling water, keeping it hot for hours and then testing for lead. Has anyone ever done this? I will do it myself I think, and test with the home tests for lead. Until then, I’ll hold off on buying a crock pot for my daughters with their young children.

  28. flyingbird

    This is fantastic. Thank you so much for doing all this work, and sharing your results. You have given me great reassurance!

  29. Caitlin

    I haven’t used my Rival Crockpot for fear of lead for two years now. I have been searching for some more answers but never have been able to find anything until now. Thank you so much!!

  30. Stacy

    Thank you so much for doing this research and for posting it!! I did not own a crock pot at the time I brought the local handheld XRF guy to my house (after his visit, all my dinnerware was replaced – starting with the 10% lead vintage earthware!!). I so disappointed to hear about lead in crock pots. I think will go out tomorrow (finally) and buy my first crock pot and then stop by the XRF compamy and have it checked out – just to be sure. I spent hours researching this the other night – everything I read was so inconclusive and incomplete – I gave up on buying one. Thanks Stephanie for sending me this link!

  31. admin

    Jill, you are correct that the pot doesn’t always have to be broken to test for leaching. The folks I worked with, however, didn’t have leach testing capability on-site, and as a rule sent just a sample for leach testing at another location, not a whole big crock pot insert.

    I will have to do more digging about other contaminants. The original question I got was about lead, so that’s what I focused on. Thanks for letting me know there are other things to check out!

  32. jill davis

    I had my Rival crock pot tested at a lab where they did a leach test- didn’t have to destroy the pot, just filled it with a solution of something (can’t remember exactly what) and waited for any materials to leach out of the pot. The result was high levels of zinc. The levels of zinc were just barely under the allowable accepted “safe” levels for human consumption–this after 8 years of using that crockpot!

    I first became suspicious about leaching when I cooked a broth-based meal in the crockpot. The flavor of the soup was light and this metallic taste came through. I tried the soup again and same thing. This metallic taste never happened with the heavier meals I would cook. The light broth tipped me off. I’ve never used a crock pot since.

    So, worry about toxic materials other than lead!

  33. Anne

    Thank you for sharing this information! A neighborhood friend of mine was just telling me that she threw away her crock pots because she heard about the “lead levels”. I started doing some searching around, because I use my crock pot ALL THE TIME. I am relieved to hear of your findings!

  34. sheila

    thk you…10x over..i just purchased a rival black a few mo ago thanks for the effort and diligence..

  35. AnneM

    Thank you for testing the crockpots yourself. It has greatly eased my mind. I had recently bought a new crockpot to give as a christmas gift to my daughter-in-law. I started wondering (after reading several reports about lead levels) that maybe I was poisening my son and his family. I appreciate all your efforts and the fact that you shared your results.

  36. Corrina Milito

    I find it so interesting that most, if not all of us, are surprised at your findings, Julie. It seems the critical thinking consumer is always on the ready for disappointment. We expect to be misled and ultimately let down. And I’m glad of it. The suspicious shopper will only force manufacturers to test and disclose and produce more mindful goods. Thanks, Goose!

  37. Jess

    Wow–I’m impressed with how much information you were able to get from the manufacturers. How much time did you spend trying to get informative people on the phone? Having to call companies like Hamilton Beach for product information in the past, I’ve found it is rarely speedy to find someone who actually knows that much about the company’s product construction on the phone. So that said, thanks for the informative leg work, even if you lost your voice. Poor thing!

  38. Cate

    Thanks so much for this research!! I’ve only been able to find what the companies are saying – not so helpful – and not xrf tests. I’d just bought a Crock Pot (black ceramic lining) but didn’t want to use it until I felt more secure. I’m wondering about testing whatever I cook in the pot for lead, like heating water and sending that in for testing like you can do for water, etc. If I do, I’ll come back and give you an update.
    Thanks again!
    Cate in NoCalifornia

  39. Stephanie O'Dea

    I love it that you did your own independent research!

    Yay on the fabulous findings! I get quite a few emails inquiring about this, and now have a great resource to send out.
    Thank you!

    xoxo steph

  40. Jennifer

    Phew….! Now if I could just get to using mine more often….
    Thanks!

  41. Erika Carlson

    hooray – i was holding my breath while reading as I use my rival crock pot a lot…i was ready to hear about another thing I coulnd’t do anymore. But mine is red, so I suppose i’m not totally in the clear!

  42. Kayris

    I am relieved. I use my Rival crockpot (white) weekly, and sometimes 3 or 4 times per week! Glad I can continue to use it and not worry about poisoning my family.

  43. Angela

    Thank you very much for doing all this research! It is very helpful and reassuring.

  44. Summer

    Yay! My poor crock pot has been sitting unused because I wasn’t sure exactly how to know for sure. Since it’s a Rival black I’m thrilled! Thank you so much for doing this!

  45. Pop and Ice

    Oh, thank, God. I couldn’t take anymore bad news about stuff in my house today. I get to keep my lovely crock pots.

  46. admin

    You know, the funny thing Alison is that the crock pot I bought at the Thrift store was a Rival (one of the ones that allegedly used to use lead) and it was definitely an older model, I’d guess at least 20 years old, and it still didn’t have lead in it. It makes me wonder whether the lead issue was a production quality thing and not really intentional usage. The WeeCycle folks said lots of manufacturers are making the crocks in China and doing glazes here in the US to control quality better. Hmmmm…

  47. A Mama's Blog- Heather

    I am surprised too! But it is great to find out that lead hasn’t been leaching from my crock pot all these years. Thanks for writing and doing the research for this excellent blog post!

  48. Alison

    Nicely done! And good news indeed. I wonder at companies leaving the “door open” to use lead if needed. That definitely needs to change. I wonder if they are murky on the issue because they don’t want to admidt any lead use, especially say, merely 10 years ago.

  49. crunchy domestic goddess (amy)

    thanks so much for having all of the crock pots (and my plate) tested. i couldn’t bear the thought of lead in our food in addition to the BPA. ;P great post!

  50. Nature Deva

    Nice work! So glad to hear there is no lead in any of the leading brands! Now I feel good about going out and buying the big,oval Rival slow cooker on sale at Target right now – my smaller, round Rival is not cutting it lately!

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