I write today with some potentially distressing news. I have heard a rumor that the ceramic liner of your slow cooker might contain unacceptable amounts of lead . . . and that it could potentially be leaching into whatever you're slow-cooking. Now let me stress that this is, as yet, unsubstantiated. At the end of last week, another mother at pickup approached me and asked me if I knew anything about this - I was shocked (maybe I shouldn't be?)!
I did a significant amount of poking around on the 'net on Friday night and really came up dry. Apparently in '04, a consumer reporter in Utah tested slow cooker liners for lead. Too much lead was found in some of the ceramic liners. It's unclear which brands might've contained unacceptable amounts of lead. Most of the information I can find online smacks of rumor and so I'm not sure what to believe. I have seen some indication that Hamilton Beach slow cookers are safe - indeed, the company's FAQ assures customers that:
Hamilton Beach specifications applicable to all slow cookers and their components (including the earthenware crocks) prohibits the product from containing any measurable amounts of lead. Furthermore, the factories that manufacture the earthenware crocks for Hamilton Beach are certified ceramic production facilities whose ceramic ware is deemed to satisfy FDA heavy metal requirements. Hamilton Beach takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the earthenware crocks accompanying our slow cookers provide safe and satisfactory service to our consumers.
Of course, I don't have a Hamilton Beach, I have a Rival Crock-Pot, and there is no such reassurance on their site.
So here's what I've done. I emailed Rival, All-Clad and Cuisinart and asked them about this issue. In addition, I posted the question on the Chowhound Cookware board. I'll update you when I get more info.
What am I doing for now? I'm taking a break from my Crock-Pot. I have a feeling this is a lot of hype, but I'm not certain yet, so why risk it? Tonight's a usual Crock-Pot night for us, but instead I'm going to do a quick cabbage recipe and grill up some chicken sausages . . . using my lead-free cast-iron skillet.