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Should I buy a plastic or a stainless steel honey extractor? People say stainless steel is safe.

The conclusion at the beginning:
Both plastic and stainless steel have trace substances that are considered unhealthy in high doses. Both plastic and stainless steel can leach unhealthy trace substances into food. Taste intuitively tells us that both plastic and stainless steel leach substances; in the case of stainless steel, it can leave a slightly metallic taste from trace material transfer if we taste close to the metal. Dose quantity is the key to determining if something is unhealthy; small doses of potentially hazardous substances are considered safe. Research on substance-related health effects is ongoing and everchanging. One view is that the environmental lobby (combatting disposable water bottles) and the stainless steel lobby (combatting diminishing market share) have villianized plastic. The plastics industry continues to refine its recipe (removing BPA, for example) much as the steel industry has refined its stainless steel recipe. Continuous improvement is part of the process in both the plastic and stainless steel industries.

Some theory about honey flow and honey extractors:
Honey is very viscous, or resistant to flow. Honey forms a thin film on the surfaces of the honey extractor and its gate, etc. (By the way, most stainless steel honey extractors have plastic honey gates.) In fluid flow dynamics, fluid particles closest to the surface flow the least; in theory, there is zero flow/ velocity of the fluid at the surface. This zero flow of fluid next to the surfaces of the extractor means: if there is contamination of the honey by leached substances, the contamination will stay in the thin film next to the surfaces. And when you wash the stainless steel extractor, the leached heavy metals, etc. will be in the wash water, not the honey you bottled. The same theory applies to plastic extractors. When using low viscosity fluids, like water and alcohol and solvents, the fluid layer next to the surfaces is replaced more often and leached substances from the surfaces can be carried more readily into the larger mixture. Theory indicates risk of leach contamination is less with high-viscosity fluids like honey.

Honey Shear Flow

(Honey flow velocity increases with distance from the surface; theoretical velocity at surface is zero.)

See Shear Viscosity on the Viscosity page of Wikipedia to understand more about this topic.

Facts about Stainless Steel:
Sometimes beekeepers buy stainless steel extractors because they think plastic is not safe and stainless steel is safe. Here are some diverse topics that you might consider if you are making a decision based solely on extractor material:

  • SS contains Heavy Metals. One of many SS MSDS links says, "Chromium and Nickel have been identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) as potential carcinogens."

    Here are the major elements in SS:
    Iron (Fe)
    Carbon (C)
    Manganese (Mn)
    Phosphorous (P)
    Sulfur (S)
    Silicon (Si)
    Chromium (Cr)
    Nickel (Ni)
    Selenium (Se)
    Columbium (Cb)
    Tantalum (Ta)
    Copper (Cu)
    Molybdenum (Mo)
    Aluminum (Al)
    Titanium (Ti)

  • SS leaches heavy metals. See this article: Stainless Steel Leaching into Food and Beverages

    A research article: Leaching of heavy metals (Cr, Fe, and Ni) from stainless steel utensils in food simulants and food materials

  • SS extractors usually cost at least twice as much.
  • SS extractors usually weigh at least twice as much.
  • SS extractors usually contain some plastic-- honey gates, etc.
  • Many times, SS extractors drain to plastic buckets (undoing the supposed health benefits of using stainless steel).
  • Allergies to SS and nickel can occur.

    Closing words:
    Stainless steel carries health risks and so does plastic. Most people believe the risk is minimal or negligible for both. And concerning honey flavor, many people can't tell the difference between metal-processed honey and plastic-processed honey. In the end, a lot of it is stored and transported in plastic anyway.

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