Can Hot Cooking Oil Damage Plastic Cooking Utensils?

Cooking and frying by definition involves some form of heat.

And while cooking you tend to use utensils.

Cooking utensil, like spoons and spatulas, are made from a variety of materials with the most common ones being stainless steel, wood and plastic.

In this article we will focus on the plastic ones.

These plastic utensils, like their wooden and metal counterparts, needs to be heat resistant to be able to withstand the prolonged exposure to heat while cooking and frying.

Can hot cooking oil damage plastic cooking utensils?

Yes, hot cooking oil can damage plastic cooking utensils. Cooking oil can reach temperatures above 177°C/350°F and plastics in general start to break down on a molecular level at approximately 70°C/158°F.

In this article I will discuss:

How hot can cooking oil get

To know if hot cooking oil can damage plastic cooking utensils, we must first know what temperatures cooking oils can reach.

Cooking oils are made from a variety of different organic materials.

The most common cooking oils are probably olive oil, sunflower oil and vegetable oil.

There are heaps of other sources as well. You can read more about cooking oils here.

The reason cooking oils are used, as explained in the referenced article in the previous paragraph, is to help with heat conduction. That is to distribute heat as evenly as possible throughout the dish you are preparing.

To be able to do that, these oils needs to be able to absorb and conduct heat energy without boiling or burning.

That is the very reason oils are used. Oils in general are very good at this.

They are being utilized in this heat conduction role all over the world in multiple industries. High-voltage electricity transformers, for example, use oil in their cooling circulation mechanisms where oil is the carrier of heat.

Since oils are made from different materials, they have different chemical properties. That includes differences in their ability to absorb and distribute heat as well as their boiling points.

So the question remains, how hot can cooking oil get?

Deep frying is probably one of the cooking methods that require the oil to be the hottest.

It requires oil ideally to be between 177°C/350°F and 190°C/375°F.

You could heat cooking oil above this temperatures but soon you would reach the smoking point of oil, where the chemical structure starts to change and gasses are produced.

What are plastic cooking utensils made from

The term “plastic” in this context refers to cooking utensils that have a plastic, non-wood and non-metal appearance.

The reason I say this is because you get different types of “plastic” cooking utensils but technically they are not plastic.

Silicone is a good example, it’s not plastic.

Plastics are all petroleum-based materials. On the other hand, silicone is made from silica, a product derived from sand.

Plastic, or rather plastic-like cooking utensils, are made from a variety of different materials.

The main ones are nylon, polypropylene and silicone.

Can hot cooking oil damage plastic cooking utensils?

The different materials used to make plastic cooking utensils have different chemical properties. For one, their melting points differ.

Nylon has a melting point of 268°C/514°F.

On the other hand, some cooking utensil manufacturers claim their silicone products to be able to withstand temperatures above 315°C/600°F.

The maximum temperature plastic cooking utensils can withstand is unfortunately not the true measure of their capabilities.

That is because although some of these plastics can withstand very high temperatures without visually deforming, molecular breakdown starts occurring at much lower temperatures, as low as 70°C/158°F.

It may seem visually insignificant, but healthwise it’s a problem.

The reason is that when molecular breakdown starts to occur, substances gets released from the dense chemical structure of some of these plastics, and some of these substance are toxic.

One of these substances, called oligomers, is used in the production of certain plastics.

A study by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) found that high levels of oligomers, specifically PA 6 and PA 6,6, are moving from the plastic utensils into food when the cooking temperature exceeds 70°C/158°F.

They also recommended, then, that you should avoid cooking with plastic utensil at temperatures above this. In fact, it was recommended to avoid plastic cooking utensils altogether. 

Final thoughts

We started off asking whether hot cooking oil can damage plastic cooking utensils.

And the answer is yes, they can damage and even melt them.

But we have found that there’s a more important question when it comes to the use of plastic cooking utensils.

And that question is if plastic cooking utensils could release toxic substances into food when used in hot cooking oil.

And the answer there is yes.

So I recommend replacing your plastic cooking utensils with ones made from wood, silicone or stainless steel.

Happy cooking!