The short answer is not for all circumstances. For specific uses, 410 stainless steel is food grade safe. For stainless steel to be approved as a food contact substance (FCS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it needs to contain a chromium content of at least 16%. The chromium prevents surface corrosion by creating an inert film of chromium oxide. This layer of chromium oxide helps prevents corrosion. While not required by the FDA, nickel makes stainless steel resistant to acidic food. For a material to be considered an approved contact substance, it must contain the following properties.
- Does not impart a characteristic to the food such as a color, taste, or odor
- Does not contain lead, arsenic, cadmium, or mercury as intentional ingredients
- Easy to clean
- Corrosive resistant
- Does not contain a metallic coating not approved by the appropriate ASTM Standards such as zinc and other galvanized materials
- Is not coated with paint unless permitted by NSF Standards. An example of something allowed is an organic coating that provides corrosion, abrasion, impact, and heat resistance
Is 410 stainless steel food grade safe?
410 stainless steel contains between 11.5% to 13% chromium and less than a percentage of nickel. According to FDA’s guidelines, it does not meet the FDA’s guidelines as an approved food contact substance. The FDAMA defines a food contact substance as “any substance intended for use as a component of materials used in manufacturing, packing, packaging, transporting, or holding food if such use is not intended to have a technical effect in such food.”
Yes, but only for blades
The FDA goes into detail and says this rule does not apply to cutlery, blades, and similar products that require a sharp edge. Knives may contain a lower amount of chromium if they have been hardened and tempered with an appropriate post-weld heat treatment process. Stainless steel grades with a lower chromium content such as 410 and 420 are considered food grade safe for knives.
A higher chromium content protects stainless steel from rust and a higher carbon content makes stainless steel more durable. Blades sacrifice some of that rust resistance properties in order to be stronger. To summarize, 410 stainless steel is food grade safe for products with a sharp edge. But not for other types of food contact products such as spoons, forks, chopsticks, pots, pans, or containers.
410 vs 420
Grade 410 and 420 are the two budget friendly grades of stainless steel that follows the FDA’s standards for knives. 420 stainless steel is slightly better because it contains more chromium for rust resistance and carbon for strength. Flatware made for home settings are usually produce with these grades because of their higher resistance to corrosion.
Grade 410 and 420 stainless steel are too soft for steak knives or hunting knives. You would need to sharpen them once a week if they were. High-performance knives like these need to be made of a stronger metal to retain their edge. This sacrifices their rust resistant properties. They are also more likely to chip instead of dent. Because of these reasons, high-performance knives require more maintenance. Hand wash and hand dry them with a towel before storing them away.
Grade 410 and 420 is a slightly stronger alloy though it can rust more easily compared to grade 304 and 316 stainless steel. Grade 410 stainless steel is intended for blades that aren’t used to cut too often such as a butter knife or picnic knife.