The product images below are from the manufacturer’s website.
The screenshot below was taken of the “From Our Place” website listing for the Always Pan:
Introduction to Tamara (for those new to the site!)
Tamara Rubin lives in Portland, Oregon, and is a child health advocate, author, documentary filmmaker, and mother of four sons. Her young men are now 24, 18, 15, and 12. She has won multiple national awards for her Lead-poisoning prevention advocacy work (including two from U.S. government agencies). As of November 15, 2020, she has had more than 1.5 million unique individual readers visit her blog in the past 12 months (with over 3.5 million page views!) — from more than 200 countries (per Google Analytics) around the world!
It is with the help, support, and participation of these readers that she conducts and reports on independent testing of consumer goods for toxicants such as Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Cadmium, and Antimony, using XRF technology (read more about that here). She goes by #LeadSafeMama on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram, and has over 2,500 separate posts of information (mostly consumer goods test results) on her website at LeadSafeMama.com.
XRF test results published on the Lead Safe Mama site are science-based, accurate, and replicable. Each component of an item is tested multiple times and one full set of test results is included in the summary report for each component tested. XRF technology quantifies (determines a numerical value in parts per million) the XRF-detectable metals present in the item tested. Not all metals are detectable with XRF technology. Metals detected may or may not be actively leaching (that is a separate type of test and not covered by these posts).
Tamara’s advocacy work has been mentioned in print in The New York Times, New York Post, Mother Jones, Parents Magazine, Vice.com, MNN.com, TruthOut, WebMD, the Huffington Post, USA Today, Grok Nation, and more (too many outlets to list!). Her work has been featured in other media (T.V. and radio), too: the Today Show, Kids in the House, Al Jazeera English, The Voice of Russia, CBS This Morning, and through news stories on CBS, ABC, NBC, and even Fox News — as well as in countless podcasts and other interviews.
Below is a screenshot from The Minimalist Baker website, containing some quotes from the Always Pan marketing materials. Although, we could not find these exact quotes on the current Our Place (the company that makes the Always Pan) website.
Monday — December 7, 2020
11:15 p.m. PST
While I truly hoped this pan would be Lead-free (as advertised), I was not surprised to learn this claim was simply not true. While the levels of Lead found in the various components and surfaces of the product are very low, the product is not actually Lead-free.
In labeling and marketing their products, many kitchenware manufacturers simply do not understand the distinction between “non–leaching” (i.e. “Our product was subjected to and passed leach testing standards for Lead at the time of manufacture”) and “Lead-free” (or “our product contains no toxic metals”, etc.), which are entirely separate distinctions.
An XRF analyzer is an instrument that can measure total Lead content down to single-digit parts per million as distinct from whether that Lead content is actively leaching at the time of manufacture. When tested with an XRF analyzer (which is what the Consumer Product Safety Commission [CPSC] uses to test for Lead in items intended for use by children), the Always Pan pictured here tested positive for Lead — and other heavy metals — with the following specific readings:
Tested Component #1) Top surface of the lid — Lavender color coated metal, three minute (180-seconds) test in “Metals & Minerals” mode
- Lead (Pb): 70 +/- 7 ppm (safe according to all standards — but not negative)
- Chromium (Cr): 282 +/- 115 ppm
- Tin (Sn): 25 +/- 6 ppm
- Palladium (Pd): 4 +/- 2 ppm
- Platinium (Pt): 286 +/- 32 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 2,742 +/- 61 ppm
- Copper (Cu): 3,469 +/- 72 ppm
- Nickel (Ni): 194 +/- 35 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 5,834 +/- 175 ppm
- Manganese (Mn): 589 +/- 129 ppm
- Indium (In): 16 +/- 4 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 128,600 +/- 2,100 ppm
Additional testing needs to be done to confirm the presence or absence of trace levels of Cadmium and Antimony. Very low trace levels of these two metals were detected using the XRF instrument, but these levels were so low that I would like to do additional testing before definitively stating the pan is positive for these metals.
Tested Component #2) Gray inner food surface of the pan, three minute (180-seconds) test in “Metals & Minerals” mode
- Lead (Pb): 34 +/- 6 ppm (safe according to all standards — but not negative)
- Chromium (Cr): 7,837 +/- 284 ppm
- Tin (Sn): 23 +/- 6 ppm
- Platinium (Pt): 206 +/- 26 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 1,789 +/- 45 ppm
- Copper (Cu): 4,965 +/- 87 ppm
- Nickel (Ni): 615 +/- 41 ppm
- Iron (Fe): 7,795 +/- 196 ppm
- Manganese (Mn): 480 +/- 148 ppm
- Vanadium (V): 1,039 +/- 230 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 37,700 +/- 900 ppm
Additional testing needs to be done to confirm the presence or absence of trace levels of Cadmium and Antimony. Same note as above.
Tested Component #3) Bottom surface of the pan — Lavender color coated metal, three minute (180-seconds) test in “Metals & Minerals” mode
- Tin (Sn): 306 +/- 24 ppm
- Platinium (Pt): 370 +/- 100 ppm
- Zinc (Zn): 2,591 +/- 151 ppm
- Copper (Cu): 355 +/- 77 ppm
- Cobalt (Co): 16,600 +/- 800
- Iron (Fe): 635,200 +/- 17,000 ppm
- Manganese (Mn): 818 +/- 242 ppm
- Titanium (Ti): 243,300 +/- 5,900 ppm
What do these test results mean?
Please note: I do not share the full list of XRF-detectable metals found in each of the products I test to indicate that the presence of any of the specific metals found necessarily represent a potential source of toxicant exposure to the user. I share the full list of metals found so that consumers can make informed choices based on the science and independent testing — not based on marketing materials from the manufacturer or claims made by the vendor.
Several of the metals listed that were found in this pan are considered non-toxic (safe) in most or all applications. I do however have specific concerns whenever I find Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, Mercury, or Antimony — even in trace amounts — in any product. Of interest, the pan shown here was, in fact, definitely negative for both Arsenic and Mercury.
Given the limitations of XRF testing (which specifically measures the total content of metals for surfaces tested), testing I complete does not indicate whether the metals detected within the coating(s) and/or substrate(s) of a particular item may be leaching now (nor whether those elements might be leachable in the future).
Newly-manufactured cookware sold in the United States is required to be “non-leaching” (for Lead and other toxicants) at the time of manufacture (with specific [non-zero] limits for certain metals). It is possible for a pan that passes leach testing standards at the time of manufacture to start leaching at unsafe levels at some point in its lifespan (especially with regular daily use as intended — and consequent normal wear and tear). You can read more about that concern at this link, here.
Again, as with all of the information reported on this website, I share these test results with you so you can make a more informed choice about what you are buying, digging a little deeper than the information shared by the company in its marketing materials.
Specific Claims of the Always Pan
Claim #1) Toxic Metals-Free?
Some people (in the non-toxic living space especially) assume that if a company claims their cookware is free of “toxic metals,” that means it is free of Aluminum. The substrate of this pan is Aluminum, which is clearly stated in the marketing materials for the product. The pan also tested positive for Chromium and Cobalt, which many people consider being highly toxic (even though Chromium is a main ingredient present in stainless steel alloys commonly used for cookware). Here’s a post with full XRF test results for a typical sample of stainless steel.
Claim #2) Lead-Free?
Most consumers assume that if a pan is advertised as “Lead-free,” or if the manufacturer states that “Lead is not used” in the manufacturing process, then there will be no Lead in the product.
Generally, when a manufacturer wants to use “Lead-free” as a selling point, they mistakenly assume that if a product is not actively leaching unsafe levels of Lead at the time of manufacture (that the pan passes leach testing within the set regulatory limits, which again are not zero), then they can call it “Lead-free.” Ignoring the possibility of further testing (total content testing done either with an XRF instrument or with destructive laboratory testing), the manufacturer then slaps a “Lead-free” label on the box and includes the false “Lead-Free” claim in their advertising.
Unfortunately, if an item is not leaching Lead (read: “complies with regulatory [non-zero] limits for leaching Lead”) at the time of manufacture, one cannot simply draw the conclusion that the item is also Lead-free (as so many manufacturers do)! There are quite a few examples of this here on the Lead Safe Mama website — items marketed as “Lead-free” that I have then tested and found to test positive for Lead (sometimes, even at alarmingly high levels)! Here are a few:
- Organifi glass water bottle
- Ceramcor/ Xtrema/ Mercola “ceramic” pans
- A white ceramic bowl by Dowan
- Boroux glass water bottle
- Paulie Jars (sold by Mighty Nest)
- Sweese brand ceramics
- ForLife brand ceramic mugs
- VitaClay Chef Slow Cooker
- Corkcicle stainless water bottles
- Mexican handmade pottery
I found it interesting that the purple coating on the bottom of the Always Pan was completely negative for Lead, but the gray interior food surface of the pan, as well as the purple coating surface on the lid of the pan both tested positive for trace levels of Lead. The substrate for the top of the pan (both the lid and the top part of the base of the pan) is Aluminum. Cast Aluminum is often contaminated with trace amounts of Lead, so it is very possible the Lead that the XRF instrument is detecting is being picked up through the coating (down below it, from the substrate of the pan) rather than from the surface coating. It’s nearly impossible to determine which component(s) contains the Lead (the substrate or the coating) without destructive testing of the pan.
Here are some other examples of cast aluminum items I have found to test positive for Lead:
Claim #3) “Heavy Metals-Free”
What are “Heavy Metals?”
The quote above (at the top of the post) from the Minimalist Baker site states that the producer of the Always Pan claims these pans are free of “lead and heavy metals.” We could not find that exact quote on the Our Place site but assume it is legitimate as we have seen it in several places. The definition of “Heavy Metals” is ambiguous at best (https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-heavy-metal-605190) and one person could argue that some metals are heavy metals, while another person might disagree. That said, Lead, Cobalt, Chromium, and other metals generally considered to be heavy metals were found in this pan.
Claim #4) Ceramic Coating
“Tamara, I am so confused! I thought these pans were coated with a high-tech ‘ceramic’ coating — not metals!”
Yeah — me too! Gah! So my husband and I have been having quite a discussion over this point. In my opinion (as the daughter of a ceramic artist who raised us in the 1960s and 1970s by selling her pottery at fairs and street markets!), cookware companies today are using some “creativity” in their definition of the term “ceramic.” True ceramics (pottery made from the earth) DO NOT generally test positive for the levels of metals found in these modern “ceramic-coated” pans; there are several examples here on the website with full XRF test results for handmade ceramics to support this assertion. Given the very high levels of metals found in the coatings on so many of these “ceramic” pans (like 128,600 ppm Titanium in the lid of the Always Pan), I think we, as consumers, should really just consider claims of products having a “ceramic” coating simply as the latest “buzz word” reeling us in.
Some examples of other ceramic items on the blog:
- Here’s an unglazed ceramic pot I tested – total METALS detected make up less than 8% of the pot (less than 80,000 ppm total in metals found, leaving 920,000 ppm of the product as a non-metal ceramic substrate)!
- Here is a recently manufactured handmade ceramic mug from Vermont (again, the total metals profile is relatively insignificant).
- Here’s a piece of glazed vintage handmade ceramic pottery — also with a fairly insignificant metal profile.
What’s next, Tamara?
What are you going to do with this pan?
I was really hoping the pan would be Lead-free, and that (after testing it) I could then do a giveaway for it as a prize to one of my readers. Since it did not end up being Lead-free, I cannot — in good conscience/on general principle — use it as a giveaway prize. HOWEVER, my husband is the kind of guy who knows how to work with metal (and he has all the tools in his workshop for various kinds of metalwork). As a result, we have decided in the interest of science to do some additional (destructive!) testing on this pan.
Our plan is to grind off the coating (using proper PPE and active dust control) to create a “bald spot” on the pan (revealing the metal substrate without the coating) so that the substrate can be tested separately. Since the readings of the bottom of the pan appear to be primarily Iron, and the readings of the lid and interior cooking surface appear to be primarily Aluminum, we will do this for one spot on each of these distinct areas of the substrate. We will then use XRF technology to test the exposed substrate to see what the Lead levels are in the substrate. This will help to determine if the Lead found with this preliminary round of testing is in the coating, the substrate (which is the case with many cast aluminum cookware product), or possibly a combination of both!
Is it more concerning if Lead is in the substrate?
Or is it more concerning if Lead is in the coating?
Of course, it is quite concerning if Lead is in the coating because (if that is the case) as the coating wears, the “worn bits” can come off into your food. It just takes a literally microscopic amount of Lead to poison a human being!
However, I want to be clear that it is also quite concerning if the Lead is in the substrate on a piece of cookware like this. The cookware comes with its own wooden spatula, and I am certain that by including a wooden spatula, the intention is to reduce the likelihood that the coating becomes scratched! Invariably, given that — despite all hype to the contrary — all coatings are subject to wear, someone is likely to eventually use utensils with the pan that will scratch the coating. We have ALL seen what a scratched non-stick coated pan looks like, right?
So once the coating is inevitably scratched, the exposed substrate under the scratches then becomes part of the pan that touches the food while cooking (cooking being normally done with high heat and often acids like vinegar, tomato, lemon juice, etc.). So if it turns out the Lead is “only in the substrate” there is potential exposure to the user once the substrate is exposed (which I would expect to normally happen after years or even months of daily use as intended).
“What pots and pans do you use, Tamara?”
In our home, we use a combination of clear glass, high-quality stainless steel, and undecorated/unadorned (plain) cast iron. I also like wooden utensils (again, unadorned/undecorated/free of any paint or other coatings). By using a combination of materials for cooking (and not using just one single type of pot or pan) we limit any potential toxicant exposure from cookware for our family.
“What do I mean by potential toxicant exposure from cookware?”
For example, some people have concerns about high levels of the elements Nickel or Chromium, often found in stainless steel cookware. Others have concerns about unsafe levels of Iron exposure when using plain, uncoated cast iron. Since we mix things up in our home (using the least-toxic cookware options available, and never any single pot all the time), I don’t particularly have those concerns.
We also don’t use crockpots or do much “long-form cooking” or “specialty appliance cooking” so we don’t have potential exposure from vessels/devices that one might use for those cooking styles. We keep a mostly vegan household and we don’t feel the need for crock-pots or other plug-in devices (air fryers, waffle irons, panini makers, etc.) for specialty cooking — which is fortunate — because many of those devices rather consistently test positive for metallic toxicants including Lead.
One example: I have never tested a plug-in waffle iron that was negative for Lead! Plug-in waffle irons are normally made of a black coated cast aluminum — so again, it is possible the Lead is in the substrate and not the coating, but for my family we prefer not to take the risk (and instead we have an antique cast iron stove top waffle iron)!
When one is cooking vegetables primarily, you also cook quickly. So even though we have and use cast Iron several times a week, that has not impacted our iron levels at all (in fact my 15-year-old son who was acutely Lead poisoned as a baby is actually iron-deficient, so I personally have no concern at all for our use of cast iron).
“But I heard stainless steel is not safe…”
I have reviewed several of the published papers summarizing experiments on stainless steel that demonstrate the potential for metals (primarily Nickel and possibly Chromium) to leach from stainless steel pots and pans into the food being cooked in those vessels. From what I have read on this subject, these experiments tend to set up circumstances that are not representative of the normal usage around these pans. These studies seem to (across the board) use EXTENDED (not normal/typical) cooking times, AND the most acidic foods possible (tomatoes/tomato sauce) in an effort to see how much of various metals can possibly be extracted from the pans. So, with this context, I don’t have concerns about the NORMAL use of stainless pans.
Exceptions for medical conditions:
Of course, if you have a diagnosed Nickel allergy, I do recommend finding low-Nickel (or Nickel-free) sources of stainless steel (Ikea has inexpensive choices that fit the bill and there are some other examples here on the site as well). Otherwise, I do not personally have a concern when stainless steel products are used as intended. Also, of course, if you have hemochromatosis (and therefore a specific diagnosed medical reason to be concerned about the use of cast iron cookware), all cast iron should be avoided. I am not a doctor, but that’s what the medical experts say!
Cookware the Rubin Family avoids in our home:
I have been doing this work (independent testing of consumer goods) for about 11 years now (almost 12, I guess!), and I have developed these guidelines (below) based on tens of thousands of items I have personally tested. One thing a long-time reader or fan of my website will probably be able to tell you is that I prefer to tell my readers what not to buy (vs. offering them suggestions of what to buy)! So this is a list of things you might want to consider NOT buying:
- Enameled cast iron (with enamel either on the inside or the outside of the pan — or on both surfaces). These products can test positive for Lead, Cadmium, and Antimony in the enamels — including on the food surface. They are often also positive for very high levels of Cobalt if they are in the blue-to-purple range.
- Cast iron with decorative elements — or “accents” in other metals or materials (such as brass adornments).
- Anything with silicone that goes in the oven or on the stovetop. Silicone often tests positive for trace levels of Cadmium (at levels most regulatory agencies consider “safe”). Since Cadmium causes cancer, I don’t want it in my kitchen, even at ostensibly “safe” levels.
- Any glazed ceramic cookware that I have not personally tested and found to be free of common metallic toxicants (Cadmium, Arsenic, Mercury, Antimony, and Lead).
- Anything glass that has painted decorative exterior markings (or painted branding) of any color (including glass frying pan lids with white painted logo markings for the brand). The paint on these tends more often than not to be Lead paint!
- Any ceramic long-form cooking vessel (for extended-time cooking, like crock pots with ceramic inserts).
- Anything with a nonstick coating! Again, almost all plug-in appliances I have tested that have any type of non-stick coating have been positive for at least some amount of Lead in the food preparation surface; the Lead levels in these products are often in the 1,000 to 2,000 ppm range. As with this Always Pan, and as stated above about the waffle irons, in many cases these are cast Aluminum cooking surfaces with a non-stick coating, so it is not always clear from XRF testing alone if the Lead is in the surface coating or if the Lead is in the cast Aluminum substrate.
- Anything Aluminum where the Aluminum component might touch the food (including Aluminum-substrate non-stick cookware where the aluminum will eventually be exposed when the coating wears, which is most non-stick cookware — this would include the Always Pan!
Some additional reading that might be of interest:
- The “Pots & Pans” category of posts on this site.
- To read more about the concern for toxic metals in cookware (over time), click here.
- My post discussing (in detail) the testing methodology for the testing reported on this blog.
- My bio 🙂 — the “About” page on this website (also linked in the footer on every page).
- My XRF certification.
For readers who absolutely insist on some product recommendations, please check out my Amazon store.
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing my posts. Please let me know if you have any questions. I will do my best to answer them as soon as possible (although — with kids underfoot because of the pandemic, and no childcare since March 2020, it may take a while for me to get back to you)!