Poisoning from copper utensils

Written by norah faith
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Poisoning from copper utensils
Lined copper utensils can safely be used for most foods. (kitchen image by AGITA LEIMANE from Fotolia.com)

Largely found in the brain and liver, copper is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies. In fact, humans need trace amounts of copper to survive. Some believe copper to be the best dishes for cooking, and lined as well as unlined copper vessels serve many culinary purposes. These vessels however, do not fit every culinary necessity because copper reacts with certain foods and this could result in unpleasant health-related issues.

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Lined and Unlined Copper

You will find that another substance lines most copper utensils. There are a few vessels such as those used specifically for caramelising sugar or beating egg whites that do not have a lining. Since copper is slightly acidic in nature, it does have a tendency to react with certain foods if the vessel is not lined.

Foods that React to Copper

You should not use copper vessels for storing pickled foods or for pickling foods. In addition, drinking water should not be stored in copper vessels. Do not keep milk and milk products like cream, butter, etc. in copper vessels as it could react with the metal and cause illness. The same goes for honey, citrus juice and yoghurt, as they have acidic properties that could react with the metal. Copper utensils also should not be used to eat, drink and serve these foods. If a copper utensil is left standing in dairy or acidic foods, the food should be discarded to avoid health problems.

Side Effects of Copper Ingestion

One of the common side effects of excess copper is a gastrointestinal infection. This may accompany feelings of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomachaches. There could also be a metallic taste in the mouth and an overall sense of lethargy and weakness. These symptoms are temporary and will gradually fade away.

Long-term Ingestion of Copper

The human body is capable of processing large amounts of copper. This means that should you have an excessive amount in your body, you will easily be able to excrete it. Actual copper poisoning could occur if you have ingested over a long period, a food that was pickled in copper. The symptoms are headache, metallic sensation on the tongue, dizziness and constant thirst. However, a doctor can treat you for these conditions.

Copper in Foods from Culinary Ware is Not Fatal

If you were to add cream of tartar, which is acidic in nature, to egg whites beaten in an unlined copper vessel, you will end up with a gastrointestinal condition. Though this not fatal, it can be bothersome. "Yes, people can get gastrointestinal upsets. But contrary to popular belief, it's not fatal," says Dr. I. Herbert Scheinberg, one of the USA's few experts on copper toxicity.

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