Silicone has become a new Kitchen Superstar in the past few years. But, is Silicone Safe to be used with food or does it have a dark side?
It’s high heat resistant, stain resistant, easy to clean and seems almost chemically inactive; like stainless steel. Well, it’s not. It’s very close to plastic in its properties, while higher in flexibility like rubber.
It’s kind of a hybrid material between the Plastic and Rubber.
Silicone is primarily made of Silicon (note the difference in spellings). Silicon comes from sand, but Silicone has a side chain of hydrocarbons just like plastic, which gives it plastic-like properties. These hydrocarbons make Silicone environmentally unfriendly since hydrocarbons come from fossils, like petroleum and natural gas, which in turn makes Silicone hard to recycle.
Silicone’s use is not limited to bakeware and utensils as often thought. It’s used in many industries from baby bottle nipples to a wide variety of medical devices (esp. tubing), gaskets, bottle rings, filters, lubricants, surface shiners, adhesive, even in electrical devices as insulators.
Silicone can be hard or flexible, it can be liquid or solid, it can absorb water or repel water.
Such a wide range of use for Silicone is possible because its properties depend on how much of which component is used to make Silicone (between Silicon, Oxygen, and Hydrocarbons).
FDA states Silicone to be a food-safe material.
The issue is; silicone is not tested or researched as Silicone. Silicon (the raw material) is considered safe to be used in cookwares; no major studies have been done for the safety of Silicone in the food industry.
Siloxanes commonly know as Silicones is a harmful chemical that is seen to have leached in food products when Silicone is used in cookwares.
However, the good news is, Siloxane is released mostly in the first use and seems to get reduced subsequently. So if the cookware is cleaned thoroughly before first use the release of harmful chemicals can be taken care of to a fair extent.
Silicone seems to release Siloxane more with high-fat content substances like oils, this makes me uncomfortable to use silicone utensils and bakeware.
Studies have been done to check the safety of Silicone in the medical industry, and that has shown some concerning results. In two different studies, Silicone is seen to release low levels of chemicals in intravenous devices and oral joint implants, which causes local Inflammation. (Study 1 | Study 2)
I sincerely hope some more research would be done soon on Silicone’s use in cookwares, for its popularity is growing almost virally. It makes me a little nervous that the entire Silicone family is considered a Food-Safe product. That leaves very weak regulations around the use of Silicone in all industries.
So — I feel comfortable using Silicone, if it’s not heated or used with high fatty foods. Silicone’s use without heating, or in nonfood related items also seems fairly safe.
It’s not Biodegradable, but recyclable. Yet, it’s not recycled by most county and city recycling programs. So, it makes Silicone one of the less recycled products.
Unfortunately, it’s not very environmentally friendly either, since it’s not biodegradable when it reaches the oceans it can pose a danger to aquatic life if ingested since it will stay inside them forever.
Sadly a lot of fillers are being used while making Silicone in the competition of making it cheaper.
It’s very important to use high-quality Silicone, to minimize the leaching of chemicals. These fillers can be dangerous since you don’t know what is being used, and how much of that will leach into your food.
To check, if your Silicone has fillers; you can bend, twist and pinch the surface of the product to see if you see any white material; if so fillers have been used in the product.
When you weight the risks and benefits of using silicone in place of plastic, it seems to be a great alternative. Since it leaches minimal amount of chemicals compared to plastic.
All the research in the medical industry makes me hesitant to use Silicone in Utensils and bakeware, where it comes in contact with food, especially high fat content food.
I still feel comfortable using Silicone for everything else, since that leaches very fewer chemicals, and is BPA and BPA alternative free.
Using a good quality silicone for food related products sounds like a precaution I would certainly want to take.
Did you know? Almost 50% of personal care products on market use Silicone in them (mostly as shiners), including makeup, shampoos, and deodorants.