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Toxicity of nickel silver flatware, p.1 of 3

Q. I am concerned about the toxicity in using my SOLID NICKEL SILVER Flatware set? Are there chemical reactions to particular foods? Can I use it safely, or should I dispose of this beautiful set? Thanks!

Nancy C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Terrebonne, Oregon

Q. I see Nancy, in Terrebonne, OR, had the exact same question as me. In my case, I have 2 nickel silver forks I use for cooking as they are well balanced and long tined. Sometimes I can taste the copper. Is there any danger of toxicity from nickel silver?

Julia H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Seattle, Washington

A. Hello, ladies. Nickel silver (also called German Silver) actually does not contain any silver -- it is a copper-nickel alloy. German Silver may also contain zinc. Copper and zinc are not considered "food-safe" materials. This doesn't mean that the flatware presents a serious hazard (as Paracelsus tells us, the difference between a medicine and a poison lies in the dose) -- but at best it may mean an unpleasant metallic taste as you have already noticed. These days nickel-silver is mostly used as the base for silverplate rather than as a final finish; and as a base it is a strong, attractive, all around great material. If you have old and very worn silverplated flatware, you may well be seeing and tasting the underlying nickel-silver.

I would suggest that you either retire them to a place where they can be shown off but not used or -- much better-- that you send them to a silver plating shop and have them silver plated. Then they will retain their beautiful shape and balance, and you will keep your memories, but they will now be food-safe and free of metallic taste.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I'm in the process of designing cutlery right now and I was reading science journals, studies, on the toxicity of different metals. And it seemed that silver is quite dangerous, and I would have thought not safe for using as cutlery? Furthermore, the chances of zinc excess is very slim, given that it's only plating, and if anything, if you were to take any of the zinc in, it wouldn't do any harm, because a majority of people, in particular in America, have some degree of zinc deficiency. Surely zinc plating would be good to combat zinc deficiency if anything? It's not like the people would be taking in the amounts that would be contained in a single zinc tablets. Yes? No?

Michael Hood
- Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
April 22, 2008

A. Hi, Michael. Although you would not want to eat or drink soluble silver salts, silver metal is something different entirely. I don't believe that there is any danger whatsoever in solid silver flatware or silver plated flatware. People have been safely using it for centuries (make that millennia).

Zinc plating will prove highly unsatisfactory. The appearance will be terrible after exposure to foods, and the zinc will dissolve into strongly alkaline or strongly acidic foods. Whether enough zinc would dissolve to be a dietary issue is a subject for a dietitian, but getting your zinc from a dissolving finish on flatware sounds like a very poor dosing strategy :-)


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
April 23, 2008

A. Concerning potential benefits of zinc-plating to increase zinc consumption in generally zinc-deficient populations: Zinc is the mineral with the lowest toxicity level, about 4 times the RDA (around 10 mg for an adult). Fortunately, it also has the mildest symptoms--vomiting etc. It usually occurs when one imbibes a great quantity of an acidic beverage in zinc-treated containers...think Planter's Punch made in a zinc-metal trash can at a college party. Of course, God only knows just what quantity zinc is leaching into the acidic beverage from our zinc-plated container. The best way to increase zinc consumption is through the diet, where dosage is naturally more predictable and toxicity highly unlikely. Good food sources of zinc are nearly always high protein foods--meats (particularly oysters) and to a lesser extent, legumes--and fortified cereals.

Cindy Walker
- Houston, Texas
June 3, 2008

!! Actually cutlery made from zinc-copper bronze would be the safest alternative to steel cutlery but nobody seems to make it. I work with a Doctor of Toxicology (Dr. Raymond Peat from Eugene Oregon) and he has been advising people avoid stainless steel with nickel in the form of pots, pans and cutlery for decades. To test your stainless ware for safety all you need to do is see whether a magnet sticks to it or not. If a magnet sticks then it is 'nickel free' stainless steel and therefore safer. Companies should list their stainless steel as either 18/10 / 18/8 or 18/0 (the 18 refers to the chromium content and the 10 or 8 or 0 refers to the nickel content) so if correctly labeled then 18/0 would be nickel-free and a magnet will stick. The reason companies use nickel is because it helps the stainless to retain the shine longer than without but this is at the cost of our health. Silver is toxic as a previous writer noted but does not present as much of a problem as nickel stainless steel in the form of cutlery.

Sarah Murray
- Whitethorn, California
December 16, 2009

A. Hi, Sarah. Thanks for the interesting perspective on safety, but that is not the reason that high quality stainless steel contains nickel. It contains nickel because this makes it far more rust resistant and corrosion resistant. These pages are overflowing with complaints of rusty stainless flatware and stainless steel refrigerators as manufacturers switch from 18/10 or 18/8 to 18/0 for cost savings because of the high cost of nickel.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
December 16, 2009

Thank you for your reply, Ted. Well, that is one of the reasons they use nickel in stainless steel cutlery because it helps it to retain the shine longer...but if they want to use nickel in stainless steel appliances that are not touching our food then our health will not be compromised. It is a good thing for our health that the price of nickel is rising as companies are switching to nickel free stainless steel and so what if we eat a little rust, this is far less dangerous than the unseen toxic nickel...besides, if one cares for their cutlery then it shouldn't rust especially since it would be "stainless" steel, the key word is "less" stain...My grandmother always hand washed and dried her stainless steel cutlery thinking it would rust if she didn't, thus her cutlery is in perfect condition with shine even today (and it was nickel free=magnetic stainless steel).

And I think we need to avoid labeling things as "high" quality when that quality may be based on appearance but not long term health effects...Beware of "high quality" stainless steel as it most certainly will contain nickel, a toxic element not meant to be ingested. It may not be advertised or publicly taught but in time hopefully the medical research that our tax dollars pay for will influence the industry, or if people educate themselves enough then they can insist the market provide them with safer alternatives, i.e. nickel free magnetic stainless steel cutlery and cookery or even better a new type of cutlery made from zinc-copper bronze.

Sarah Murray
- Whitethorn, California
December 17, 2009

Hi again, Sarah. You're certainly welcome to eat with whatever cutlery you want and to lobby for whatever changes you wish to. But implants are always 18/10 stainless steel (type 316), 18/0 can't even be considered. Surgical instruments are always 18/10 stainless steel (type 316), never 18/0. Food & pharmaceutical manufacturers and dairies must always use 18/10 in their production, never 18/0 -- which exhibits markedly inferior corrosion resistance.

Again, I don't call 18/8 and 18/10 "high quality" based on "shininess", but because it's far more stable, rust-free and corrosion resistant (and quite a bit more expensive), and because it doesn't require the babying that 18/0 requires. Not everybody is willing to hand wash based on the latest "toxic timebomb in your kitchen" rumor of the day. And when I've used the same stainless flatware for decades and it looks and feels exactly the same after 25+ years of scrubbing and automatic dishwashing, the amount of nickel I & my family & our guests all put together have ingested from it over the whole course of 25 years is not even measurable.

I don't challenge your employer's research, but personally don't find the issue compelling considering that there seems to be similar worry about steel, aluminum, teflon coated, copper, zinc, chrome, bronze, and ceramic food surfaces too -- and you claim that silver is toxic as well. With frequent listeria, e coli, and salmonella outbreaks ... persistent pesticides on our fruits .... genetic engineering of our corn and vegetables .... antibiotics in our meat ... and non-inspected food imported from every hovel in the third world, it makes more sense to me to focus my attention on what is on my fork than on what is in it :-)

But thanks again! I'm not here to argue with people nor to presume to lecture them ... just to help us all find answers; and perhaps your answers are as good or better than mine.

Best regards,

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
December , 2009

thumbs down signThere is a zinc-copper alloy, it's common, it's called brass. It doesn't taste good and reacts with food, no thank you. I'll take bronze ware and 18/10 stainless any day.

A Zeleny
- San Francisco, California, USA
December 18, 2011

Q. I've been researching stainless steel flatware and silverplate in preparation to buying a new set and came across your letters. Coincidentally, breaking news about arsenic, chrome and nickel in apple and grape juice is now hitting. Now I'm running around the house with my magnet checking my metal utensils and wondering how much chrome and nickel my grandkids are and have been ingesting and if this 'secret' ingredient has anything to do with ADD and ADHD type problems. Can/will you make an updated statement regarding this situation? Thanks much.

Mary Ann Bleich
Retired, at home - Northfield Center, Ohio, USA
December 14, 2011

Hi, Mary Ann. I run a metal finishing website. I am not an epidemiologist specializing in nickel and chrome, nor ADD and ADHD, and I cannot offer the authoritative research information you seek. If you feel that Ray Peat is authoritative, you can certainly try his site. But nickel and chrome are expensive metals, so the sellers emphasize how much of these metals are in their flatware, not how little -- so I don't understand calling them 'secret' ingredients.

If convenient, please provide a reference for the 'arsenic, chrome and nickel in apple and grape juice' that you allude to as I'm not familiar with it. Thanks!


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
December 14, 2011

February 22, 2012

I think the secret ingredients that the previous poster was referring to, are the ones that companies don't list or refuse to share, when a person or organization specifically requests it.

Companies will oftentimes hide behind clauses like: "Well it's trade secrets we don't want our competition to know."

There could be other additives added to get the bonding of different ingredients to bond better, give a particular look, durability, etc.

Companies may use chemicals or metals banned or been shunned for possible health problems. They will often use "trade secret"/ "ingredient secrets" clause to hide this fact.

Why would there be secret ingredients in first place other than obvious trade secret? Companies know if their product contains "KNOWN ISSUES" and the consumer is informed and educated to these facts before hand, the consumer would NOT BUY said goods or services. That is why MOST companies want their consumers completely in the dark till after the consumer forks over their meager $$.

In today's mostly unregulated economy with marginal returns, companies ARE and WILL do anything to keep the consumer in the dark and PREVENT the consumer from making an educated decision.

By the way, I like the article in that I was considering getting nickel plated cast iron skillet for induction cooking. Any thoughts as to the safety of this option, since it is a relatively new company that makes this product (they say they been doing it since 2005).

The point of "FDA approved nickel impregnated cast iron" is heat retention with the corrosion resistance of nickel and the lack of seasoning and flavor memory that can be used in a induction cooking. And it is 3 times harder than stainless steel. Not to mention heavy, 13 inch skillet is 7 lb.
Here is a quote about not all nickel is created equal as follows from the site which is owned by the said company:

" Q: Is the Nickel pure Nickel?
A: No. This is an FDA recommended nickel composite which passes Military Spec. # C-26074, and all required tests. The application is non-electrolytic." ...
Q: Is the Nickel NSF approved?
A: Yes. It has been used for years in the manufacture of food processing equipment. Machines that make pancakes, pizzas, pre-made frozen eatables, etc. have to be cleaned with strong detergents to prevent bacterial growth and rust. Nickel has been used to maintain the integrity of these components. "

Problem with nickel fear is people are "NOT BEING SPECIFIC ENOUGH" about which is which.


Corey Jacob
- Rochester, Minnesota, USA

Hi, Corey.

Companies can't hide their ingredients from the regulatory agents, but yes, sales & marketing people are trained to sell "benefits" rather than "features/details".

Rarely are they trying to hide dangers (which can result in huge product liability payouts), but they do obfuscate and try to sell fancy words rather than facts. If you follow the link to the MIL-C-26074 [affil link or DLA] spec you mentioned, you'll see that both military & industry professionals call the finish "electroless nickel plating"; in a whole lifetime of living & breathing nickel electroplating and electroless plating, I have never heard their flowery phrase "non-electrolytic nickel impregnated", demonstrating the point :-)

Regarding "known issues", please remember that the media knows that people will stay up for the 11 o'clock news if the teaser is "Toxic time bomb in your kitchen?", but never for "Pots and pans are safe". Similarly, as H L Mencken observed long ago, the whole aim of politics is to conjure up hobgoblins the politicians can then promise to protect you from. The result of this is that you never hear reassurance, you never hear balance, you never hear a sense of proportion ... but always only fear mongering ... so there are "Issues" with every material known to man. So, sure, to the extent practical, salespeople won't often mention what something is made out of, because no matter what it is made out of, there are always "Issues" :-)


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
February 23, 2012

Q. Hi folks and thanks very much for this forum. Hope someone can answer my question. I have a set of six broad-bladed cutlery knives stamped "Wear-Wite Stainless Nickel Silver Sheffield". These look like very broad-bladed butter knives/fish knives. The blade (unlike a standard butter knife) is symmetrical and begins narrow (slightly large then the width of the handle, expands out and tapers to a tip near the end. Each piece is slightly rounded on the bottom of the blade, quite heavy and measures 20.5 cm (or for you Americans 8 inches) long. Any help appreciated. Thanks.

Cheers from New Zealand.


Peter Wells
- Wellington, New Zealand
March 2, 2012

A. Hi, Peter.

From the stamping, they sound like they are made of nickel silver. This is a nickel alloy with no actual silver in it, that is usually silver plated. If it is not silver plated, it sounds like it would give you an "off" metallic taste. But as long as you are not eating off of them, it's probably no problem.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
March 2, 2012

Q. This is a time sensitive question --

I am cooking a soup and without thinking I positioned a Christofle small spoon on the side of the pot to leave some room between the pot and its cover. The Christofle spoon I believe is made of some silver alloy and was made in France. No idea of how old this spoon is, but I enjoy it and have no problem using it occasionally because it is just lovely.
Back to the question, the spoon basically cooked along with the soup for about two hours and now I am concerned that too much silver or other metal leaked in the soup and pose a danger. The pot was on high heat for at least 1 hour. By the time I retrieved it, the spoon had turned dark color like oxidized silver but it was not as hot as I would have expected it. Do I throw the soup out or eat it?
Thanks for the help and hi to all from beautiful St.Croix in the Virgin Islands

Valeria Gasperi
- Christiansted, St.Croix V.I. USA
October 21, 2012

A. Hi Valeria. I visited St. Croix and Christiansted about 3 years ago and agree that you are writing from an absolutely beautiful place. Sorry that a public forum isn't a great place for time-sensitive questions, since people may not weigh in for a week or a month or even more.

The boiling point of water is a mere 100 °C (212 °F); the boiling point of soup might be a couple of degrees higher if rather salty, but you can't get it any hotter than its boiling point. So the part of the spoon that was in the soup was at most boiling temperature, and the rest of the spoon simply can't get much hotter while most of it is held to boiling temperature. This isn't even close to halfway towards the melting point of any metal. Yes, the silver tarnished, from eggs or other sulfur-ish food, but the silver tarnish is still on the spoon, not in the soup, and wouldn't be dangerous even if it was. Bon Appetit.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
October 22, 2012

thumbs up signThank you, Ted, for the service provided by this website and thanks especially to the contributor who worked for the Eugene Toxicologist for the specifics about the nickel content of stainless steel. Now I know which kind of stainless flatware to search for for my personal use and to recommend to my family and friends [18/0 of course].

Ken Scott
Mind/Body Health Center - Bend, Oregon
November 4, 2012

Q. I am into flatware business. Base metal used at my workshop is cast brass. Which is the most food safe plating for my flatwares. My preferences are chrome and nickel plating.

Tejas Soni
- Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
January 11, 2013

A. Hi Tejas. Silver is surely the most appropriate plating for flatware. I suppose electroless nickel is a possibility; but I don't like the idea of getting involved with a skin allergen like nickel. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
January 15, 2013

Q. Good day Ted,
Thank you for all your responses and information. It is very true that every medium you use has "issues" and it's really about which is the best for it's purpose rather than which is safe and which isn't.
Cutlery handles made from a Zinc alloy and nickel plated are quite common in South Africa. One of the reasons for not making it EPNS is that the layer of silver is so thin that it tarnishes quite easily. Is this finish acceptable in the USA and elsewhere?

Thank you.

Tina Cartwright
Andy C - Durban, South Africa
May 9, 2013

A. Hi Tina. I don't know of any reason to think this finish would be unacceptable in the USA or anywhere. But regulations are complicated, so I apologize but I can't guarantee that there are no rules anywhere that discourage or preclude it. And whatever you make it out of, somebody somewhere will accuse you of trying to poison them :-)


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
May 9, 2013

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