Stainless steel flatware, once a stepsister to sterling silver, has come into its own with the development of luxury high-grade stainless steel. Available in patterns, its lustrous shine will not be dimmed by cleaning it in a dishwasher. Some modern brides eschew traditional silver and choose stainless steel.
All flatware manufacturers order a base of Type 304 stainless steel and then other trace elements are added at the steel mill, as specified by the order. Type 304 is a food-grade alloy containing a minimum of 10 percent chromium, 8 percent nickel, more than 50 percent iron and a maximum of 0.08 percent carbon. Chromium binds oxygen on the surface, thus providing corrosion resistant properties, making it nearly immune to rust. Nickel gives a silver-like shine to the product and also confers some rust resistance. Stainless can withstand high and very low temperatures.
The finest grade is 18/10, meaning it has 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel. The middle grade is 18/8 and is nearly indistinguishable from the top grade, with 8 percent nickel. The lowest grade, 18/0, has no nickel and will not maintain its shine nor be as corrosion resistant as the better grades. An even lower quality flatware is called 13 chrome, meaning that it has 13 percent chromium. Note that these numbers to not refer to the weight of the stainless. Weight is related to the process of forming the utensils.
Although stainless steel is safe in terms of causing cancer or other serious illness, a rare nickel sensitivity can cause redness, itching or slight swelling after contact with stainless steel. It is not a sudden reaction, as with a bee sting, but develops anywhere from 12 to 72 hours, depending on the degree of sensitivity and the length of exposure.
Each piece of inexpensive tableware is stamped from a thin piece of metal, rather like cutting out cookies. The rough edges are smoothed out at the top and bottom but the tines of the forks may be slightly rough. Bowls of the spoons may be shallower than usual. It can be bent out of shape easily.
Some of the features that affect the price of stainless tableware are the weight of the material, the design and the finishing. Quality tableware sometimes is stamped but from a thicker piece of metal. Extra attention is given to smoothing and finishing and polishing. The difference between quality stainless and inexpensive stainless is apparent when you put a piece of the flatware in your mouth. In addition to stamping, manufacturers use new drop-forging techniques that involve pouring molten steel into molds. These pieces will be heavier and difficult to bend and the luster should last a lifetime.
Stainless steel needs less maintenance than other types of tableware and it is easy to clean. However, a stainless spoon or other utensil should not be left for a long time in acidic or alkaline food because the chromium bound oxygen will be released, causing slight pitting or rusting.
- Photo Credit Eating Utensils image by William Berry from Fotolia.com forks image by Adkok from Fotolia.com
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