Setting up a kitchen, or upgrading the one you have, can get costly. It’s tempting to save some money (and help out the environment) by picking up kitchen supplies at a used store, but you might want to think twice about some items, because you don’t know where they’ve been. And sometimes, that’s not a very good place.
1. Cast Iron
Cast iron pans are amazing to cook with, and they’re notoriously expensive. Good-quality cast iron can cost you a pretty penny new, and you have to spend time seasoning so it will perform beautifully. Used pans, on the other hand, often come preseasoned and they’re a lot less expensive, especially when you’re talking about big ticket items like Dutch Ovens.
But…there’s a catch. For one thing, there’s a cross-contamination issue, and cast iron could have been used to cook foods containing allergens as well as animal products, for strict vegetarians who might be concerned about this issue. More importantly, cast iron pans are sometimes used for melting lead (the metal is soft enough that it melts down well before the cast iron does, and the pan permits for even heat conduction and control) to use in the production of figurines, bullets and other projects.
Lead is not something you want in your food — and guess what, cheaper cast iron products can contain adulterants like lead too. If you don’t know the provenance of a pan, you might want to reconsider a deal that seems too good to be true.
2. Crock Pots
They’re versatile, great for slow-cooking, easy and terrific for potlucks. What’s not to love about a slow cooker? Well, if it’s used, you might be in for a few surprises. The same traits that make it great in the kitchen can also make it handy for craft projects, and some of those projects involve components you definitely don’t want in your three bean chili.
For example, some jewelers use crock pots for acid baths, used in the processing of metals with some jewelrymaking techniques. The acid can chew into the lining of the pot over time, damaging it and making it potentially unsafe to cook with, but more importantly, you don’t want to cook food in a pot that’s been used with toxic acid. Other dipping baths may be maintained in a slow cooker, and could contain a variety of unsavory chemicals.
Don’t panic: a new slow cooker is usually fairly inexpensive, and it’s totally worth it to buy new and get a little peace of mind.
3. Immersion Blenders
Everyone seems to love a good immersion blender these days, especially for things like soups, and as experienced cooks know, some of the best can be quite expensive. If you spot a good one at a used store, it might be highly tempting to pick it up. However, you might be getting more than you bargained for, because many people use immersion blenders in soap making. This can involve ingredients you don’t particularly want to eat, including stabilizers and essential oils along with lye; while they’re fine on your skin after processing and curing, they aren’t such a hot bet in your tummy!
While many soapmakers stick with low-cost models and tend to use them until they wear out, there’s no guarantee that a blender you see for sale on the used shelf hasn’t been used in soapmaking. Do yourself a favor and buy new, unless you know for sure that a blender’s been used exclusively with food.
You can definitely find used glassware for a great price, but be careful. You need to know your glass products well to avoid tangling with lead, which, as discussed above, is something you don’t want anywhere near your food — a neurotoxin, lead can cause severe health problems that will ultimately lead to death if you can’t eradicate the source of exposure. That’s especially true for children, who have developing nervous systems that are very sensitive to lead exposure.
Unfortunately, lead was often used in the production of glass historically, and continues to be used in “ornamental” glassware. It can also crop up in new glass products from regions without strict safety and quality controls. For that reason, when you’re picking up used glass, it’s in your best interest to take care. Buying guides for glassware are available, and experts in glass can also provide advice on whether a product is likely to be safe.
If you aren’t sure, better to be safe than sorry: buy new products that you know will be lead-free.
5. Plastic Storage Containers
We’re moving away from plastic because of the chemicals that can leach out of it and into food, but materials can also leach into plastic. If you don’t know what has been stored in a plastic container, it’s hard to tell what might be getting into your food. Plastic storage containers are often inexpensive at used stores because they’re produced in larger numbers and people frequently replace kitchen equipment as they upgrade their homes, but that doesn’t mean they’re a good, or particularly safe, buy, since they’re often used outside the kitchen.
Your used plastic containers might have held anything from laundry soap to toxic metals: do you really want to take that chance? It’s better to buy glass or ceramic for storage, but if you absolutely need plastic, buy new.
Saving money and reducing the need for new products is always commendable, but remember that your safety should be a consideration too!
Photo credit: Vox Efx.