Dear Debra ~
I am looking for material(s) that works well as a non-stick baking and stir-frying surface and that will not harm my family. What do you think about silicone bakeware for environmental and health issues? I know Teflon is dangerous but what about silicone?
Silcone bakeware and other kitchen utensils are safe to use. Silicones are made chemically by creating a "backbone" of silicon (from common sand) and oxygen molecules, a combination that does not occur in nature. Then various other synthetic molecules are added branching off of the main silicon-oxygen line to create hundreds of different silicones that range from liquids to rubbery solids. Though this is a completely manmade product, it is completely inert and will not transfer to foods.
Health and Environmental Effects
I tried to find some information on the health effects of silicone rubber, but it was not listed in any of the toxic chemical databases I use.
I went to the Dow Corning website (who makes over 700 different silicone rubbers) and looked at a random sample of their MSDSs. The ones I read listed no hazardous materials or health effects, or needed first aid measures. All descriptions I read of silicone rubber describe it as chemically inert and stable, so it is unlikely to react with or leach into food, nor outgas vapors. MSDSs also note that silicone is not toxic to aquatic or soil organisms, it is not hazardous waste, and while it is not biodegradable, it can be recycled after a lifetime of use.
Some years back there was a question about the safety of silicone used in breast implants. Whether or not the health problems experienced by some women with breast implants were associated with the implants has been very controversial. I found an article from the year 2000 on a leading website on breast cancer and related women's issues that states "A large study conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) finds no correlation between silicone-filled breast implants and breast cancer risk."
The prolonged inhalation of crystalline silica dust is associated with silicosis, but there is no silica dust exposure from the use of silicone kitchenware.
I personally use silicone spatulas and baking mats and have experienced no ill effects. Nothing sticks to them and they are very easy to clean. My silicone baking mats (which can be reused more than 2000 times) have already saved yards and yards of parchment paper!
Silicone has many desireable benefits:
- nonstick finish
- does not retain odors or flavors
- stain resistant
- dishwasher safe
- can go from temperature extremes of -58 degrees F up to 428 degrees F, from freezer to oven [note home ovens can go up to 500 degrees F, so keep the 428 degree F limit in mind]
- promotes even heat distribution
- quick cooling
- some items can be folded for easy storage
Silicone kitchenware products are made from FDA approved food grade silicone.
Silicone is now being used to make a whole variety of useful non-stick cooking items. While there are no stovetop pots and pans, there are hundreds of useful kitchen items, including baking pans, baking sheets, spatulas, molds, icecube trays in fun shapes (that also can double for baking little cakes), rolling pins, and more.