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Stainless Steel: Food Grade Selection and Care

Stainless steel types and grades determine how corrosion-resistant, durable, and long-lasting they are.

Table of Contents

It is a group of alloys with a minimum of approximately 11% chromium content.

The resistance to rust that stainless steel has are due to the alloy’s chromium content, which forms a passive layer that shields the underlying material from corrosion attack.[1]

Elements Effects

Chromium: A key element of stainless steel, chromium helps make the steel resistant to staining, tarnishing, and corrosion.[2]

Nickel: This element gives the metal stability and strength, as well as gloss and luster.[2]

Carbon: It gives steel hardness and strength, as well as reduce wear.[2]

Molybdenum: Enhances resistance to both local (pitting, crevice corrosion, etc.) and general corrosion.[2]

stainless steel pot on a black table

Stainless Steel Food Grade Benefits

Corrosion Resistance

In contrast to other metals, stainless steel has a very low corrosion rate, which makes it ideal for use in the kitchen

Strength

It is a strong and durable material that makes it ideal for use in heavy-duty equipment.

Easy to Clean

It has a smooth surface, making it easy to clean.

Non-reactive Surface

Meaning you can use it to prepare foods that are acidic, such as citrus, tomatoes, and vinegar. Such foods won’t damage the metal.

onion and tomato being cooked on a stainless steel plate

Major Types of Stainless Steel

There are several types of food-grade stainless steel and one type may be better suited for one particular task than another. Knowing the difference between food-grade stainless steel types and grades can help you make informed decisions and buy the products that best suit your needs.

200 Series

They are lower quality and more corrosive than other types of stainless steel. Due to the low nickel content, they are cheaper to produce.[3][6]

Applications: food containers, cutlery, and food and beverage industry.

set of two stainless steel mesh shakers with plastic cover

300 Series

The main alloying components of these stainless grades are chromium (18 to 30%) and nickel (6 to 20%). It is very strong, heat-resistant, corrosion-resistant, and performs well at low temperatures.[6][7]

Application: kitchen appliances, smallwares, flatware, utensils, internal parts.

Numberinfo
304It is the most common type in the kitchen. The material is also highly resistant to corrosion and rust, but it is susceptible to corrosion caused by salt exposure.[4]
316This alloy contains molybdenum, which makes it more resistant to corrosion caused by salt and other chemicals.[5]
18/8(304 stainless steel) most common types of flatware material. 
18/10(304 stainless steel) The highest quality and typically more expensive than stainless steel 18/8. The designs on flatware are usually unique and interesting.
Material30431618/818/10
Chromium18% – 20%16% – 18%18%18%
Nickel8% – 10.5%10% – 14%8%10%
Molybdenum2% – 3%
close shot of a collection of three stainless steel pots

400 Series

All stainless steels in the 400-series contain between (11 to 27%) chromium, up to about 1% carbon, and up to 2.5% nickel.

The 400 series alloys are generally not as corrosion resistant as the 300 series, but they are stronger and offer a more cost-effective solution in certain environments.

Application: kitchen appliances, smallwares, flatware, utensils, internal parts.

Numberinfo
430contains a very small amount of nickel. It is less expensive and more vulnerable to corrosion.
440Has a high levels of carbon, which attain the highest hardness, wear resistance and strength of all stainless steel grades after heat treatment.
13/0(420 stainless steel) commonly used for dinner and dessert knives. contains less chromium and no nickel.
18/0(430 stainless steel) This steel has only a small amount of nickel (0.75%) and is not as corrosion resistant as steels from the 300 series. It is also magnetic.
Material43044013/018/0
Chromium16% – 18%16% – 18%13%18%
Nickelmax 0.5%0.75%
top view of a stainless steel knife

Care, Maintenance and Cleaning

  • Food should not be left on your flatware for a long time.[8]
  • Soak in warm water with mild soap. Avoid using detergents high in chlorides.
  • Use a sponge, soft cloth, or a towel to clean the surface after use. Avoid using metal scrub brushes. 
  • Remove any water spots immediately with a microfiber cloth.
close shot of a fork, spoon and a knife on a white cover book
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References

  1. Davis, Joseph R., ed. (1994). Stainless Steels. ASM Specialty Handbook. Materials Park, OH: ASM International.
  2. International Stainless Steel Forum (8 March 2020). “The Stainless Steel Family” (PDF). Brussels, Belgium.
  3. Bristish Stainless Steel Association (August 2006). “200 Series Stainless Steels. An overview”. Stainless Steel Industry. Archived from the original on 7 August 2020.
  4. Data sheet on SAE 304 stainless steel Archived 23 July 2012.
  5. “Welding of stainless steels and other joining methods” (PDF). Nickel Institute.
  6. Stainless steels for design engineers (#05231G). ASM International. 2008. pp. 69–78 (Chapter 6).
  7. McGuire, Michael F. (2008). Practical Guidelines for the Fabrication of High Performance Austenitic Stainless Steels.
  8. “care of cutlery”www.catra.org.

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