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Are Induction Stoves Safe For Seniors?

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Like most parents of the Baby Boomer generation, my mom was the Chief Domestic Person in the household. This meant that she alone was responsible for cooking – Dad could barely boil water. But, as she aged, arthritis and illness made her weaker. She frequently dropped heavy pots and had a hard time standing long enough to cook. I worried about her getting burned – or worse – so I checked into replacing her electric range with an induction stove.

The biggest question I had was are induction stoves safe for seniors? Overall, they are safe, as there are no flames or hot coils. But they use magnets for cooking, so induction stoves may not be safe for seniors with pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, or insulin pumps.

Induction Cooking

Induction cooktops, also known as induction hobs, are popular in Europe and Asia. They are slowly catching on here in the United States. The ranges look similar to electric stoves, but they heat food quicker.

Are Induction Stoves Safe For Seniors
Image courtesy of TheInductionSite.com

A benefit of induction cooking for seniors is that the cook top doesn’t get hot except where a pot or pan is touching the stove. You can see from this picture from TheInductionSite.com that the water is boiling in the pan, but the ice on the same burner is not melting.

So, food that is dropped on the cook top generally won’t stick and burn (there are exceptions). And an elderly cook won’t burn their fingers.

Induction cook tops are a safe alternative for a senior who loves to cook but isn’t stable on their feet or who for those who might have problems remembering to turn off the stove.

The drawback is that these cook tops work by magnetically inducing heat onto a pan. Magnetic fields can interfere with some insulin pumps, as well as some implanted cardioversion defibrillators and pacemakers.

What Are The Benefits Of Induction Cooking?

Induction stove tops look like a traditional, glass-top electric range, but they use alternating magnetic fields, which are located below the glass. This electromagnetic field generates a current directly to cooking pans made of ferrous metals (iron). The current causes the cookware to heat and cook the food.

An induction range has several benefits:

  • It cooks up to 50 percent faster than a traditional electric range.
  • It cools quickly if you lower the cooking temperature.
  • Unlike with a traditional electric stove, the coil under the glass top does not get hot. The cooking surface won’t burn spilled food (with some exceptions) or a senior’s fingers if they touch it while the burner is on (assuming there is no cookware on the burner). As you can see in this image from TheInductionSite.com, the dollar bill under the pot isn’t burning even though the water is boiling.
    Image courtesy of TheInductionSite.com
  • They are very thin units, often needing less than two inches of depth below the counter’s surface. Induction stoves are great for a cook who needs wheelchair access.
  • Flat surface so clean up is especially easy because spilled food or fluids won’t bake onto the cook top’s surface (there are a few exceptions – See the section below called Do Induction Cooktops Scratch Easily?). Clean up kits make it even easier.
  • They have no heating element, so there are no open flames or hot coils.
  • Most units nowadays have sensors to detect the amount of ferrous metal in the area occupied by the magnetic field. If it isn’t at least as much as a small pot, they don’t turn on, which means you don’t have to worry about Mom’s rings or bracelets burning her while she cooks.
  • If a forgetful senior turns a burner on without a pot on it, the cook top won’t get hot. Most induction stoves have an automatic shut off that turns off the stove after a set period of time or if a pot is left on the stove and the liquid boils out of it. However, if the person leaves a pot containing cooking oil on the burner and forgets it, the food will burn and could start a fire, just the same as with a traditional stove (learn about fire safety and shut off products for the kitchen). This was demonstrated in a 2013 study in Hong Kong.

Induction Cooking Disadvantages

Induction cook tops also have several drawbacks for seniors:

  • The cook top doesn’t glow when it’s on, so you don’t know whether the stove is on or off. Lately, however, manufacturers have been adding visual cues, such as virtual flames, to help users quickly see the stove’s status.
  • It can be difficult to understand the settings that control the cooking. Instead of the regular settings of Lo, Medium, High, etc., the knobs are numbered dials (or just lines on some models!). It may be hard for an elderly person to “translate” the settings they’ve been using forever into numbers. (Does Line #3 equal low, low/medium, or medium?)
  • Induction provides instant heat. Until the user gets the hang of it, pots may frequently boil over or food may burn quickly. The cook cannot walk away from the stove when something is cooking.
  • Even though people think the cooktop doesn’t get hot, it actually does if a pot is sitting above the coil. This means the surface of the stove will be hot for several minutes after the pot is removed, although it should never be as hot as with a traditional range.
  • You need the right cookware (see section below – Can You Use Regular Pots On Induction Cooktop?).
  • These cook tops scratch easily. They can pit. Also, they can crack if someone sets a heavy pot down too hard.
  • The heat comes on so fast that a cook who is used to putting oil in the pan to heat while they finish cutting or prepping ingredients could quickly have a stove fire. Consumer Reports says that 6 quarts of water will boil 2 to 4 minutes faster than with a traditional cook top.
  • Induction might interfere with digital meat thermometers. Use analog thermometers instead.
  • The element size is the size that heats up on the pan. So, if you put a 12-inch frying pan on a 9-inch element, only 9 inches of the pan will cook the food. Additionally, if the entire pan isn’t completely over the element, only the part that is on it will cook the food.
  • These stoves often make a buzzing sound when in use. The higher the cooking temperature, the louder the buzzing can be.
  • Induction stoves are still much more expensive than gas or electric ranges even though their price has come down considerably in the last twenty years. Portable units, however, cost less than $100 for a 1- or 2-burner model – and a portable unit might be perfect for a senior who lives in a small apartment.
  • These cook tops don’t simply plug into the wall if you are replacing your parent’s electric stove. There are installation costs to factor in – an electrician must run a 50 amp breaker with a #6 gauge Romex line (#8 minimum).
  • If the electricity goes out, your parent can’t cook. Of course, this also applies to electric stoves and gas ranges that have electric igniters.

Do Induction Cooktops Use More Electricity?

In a word, no. Induction stoves work by magnetic induction. Basically, the cook top has electromagnetic coils that create a high frequency electric current (20 to 60 kilohertz).

This current conducts a magnetic field directly into the cooking vessel. The metal in the pot acts to close the circuit, which is what generates the heat for cooking.

In an assessment for the California Energy Commission, the Electric Power Research Institute found that induction cooking is very energy efficient. Part of the reason is that, “With this technology, up to 90% of the energy consumed is transferred to the food, compared to about 74% for traditional electric systems and 40% for gas.”

These stoves heat up instantly, so they don’t waste energy preheating the pan. The U. S Department of Energy found that there is about a 12 percent energy savings when using an induction cook top versus a smooth top electrical stove.

Which Is Better, Gas Or Induction?

To answer this question thoroughly, you have to consider the perspective. Are we talking safety or efficiency? I suppose it doesn’t matter, though, because induction cook tops come out the winner in both categories.

Efficiency:

The website, Reviewed.com, did an experiment on energy efficiency between gas and induction cooking. They recorded the time it took a gas range versus an induction range to bring six cups of water to a boil.

Their gas range averaged boiling water in 8 minutes, 34 seconds, but the induction cook tops averaged just 3 minutes, 7 seconds.

Safety:  

Gas stoves mean a potential for carbon monoxide poisoning if the burner is turned on but not ignited, or if the pilot light blows out. Induction cook tops release no fumes or gases.

Gas ranges cook on an open flame, so the risk of fire is clearly lower with an induction cook top.

That being said, with induction cooking, the pan itself is the heat source. A senior could still burn themselves on the hot pan or by putting their hand on the stove immediately after removing a hot cook pot.

Can You Use Regular Pots On Induction Cooktop?

If your senior loved ones gets an induction stove, they might also need to get new cookware.

This is because the stove works by creating an electromagnetic field. Essentially, it passes electricity through copper coils to make them magnetic. Therefore, a pan has to have ferrous metal (iron) in it or it won’t work with induction.

  • Copper pans, glass (including Pyrex), aluminum, some Calphalon, and most non-stick pans cannot be used with an induction stove.
  • Cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron, and some stainless steel pans will work just fine, but they must have a flat bottom.

Companies do sell specially designed cookware for induction stoves, but it can be pricey. And let’s face it – my mom used the same pots and pans for nearly seventy years. Your elderly mom probably isn’t going to be thrilled if she has to replace hers.

*TIP: There are adapters on the market that claim to allow any pot or pan to be used on an induction range. TheInductionSite.com says, “…because they essentially turn an induction element into a standard stovetop type of heater, they lose many of the advantages of induction—they are less efficient, they get very hot, and may be restricted as to maximum power level…”

magnets stick to induction stove pots

 

There is a cheaper, easier way to find pans that work with induction stoves. Just try sticking a magnet to the pan like I did in the image to the left. If it sticks well (like my magnet does), the pan will work.

Also, if the pan is relatively new, it may have a looping symbol etched into the underside. This indicates that it is compatible with induction stove tops. You can see it in the photo , above the magnet – it’s very small, on the bottom line of symbols, furthest to the left

If you are buying cookware online, be sure it’s labeled as “induction compatible” or says something similar.

 

 

 

Here is a video from Bosch. It has some great tips about choosing and using cookware for an induction cook top.

Do Induction Cooktops Scratch Easily?

Yep, they do.  Pans need to be as smooth as a baby’s bottom and you can’t slide anything across the surface.

This could be a big drawback for a senior like my mom.

She had arthritic fingers and most pots and pans were too heavy for her to lift. Consequently, if she was cooking on several burners, she had to slide the pan part way off the back burner until it was close enough for her to lift with both hands. And, she would have had to slide it to the back burner in the first place.

This would not work on an induction cook top – it would be full of scratches very quickly.

Also, Mom used to set things like cups and plates on the stove when she was putting the dishes away. It was too much for her to lift several plates into the cabinet above the stove, so she did it in increments.

This is a big no no with an induction cook top. First, anything that gets rubbed over the surface can scratch it. If your parent puts a plate on the stove and there are a few stray grains of salt underneath it, they will scratch the surface if she slides the plate as she picks it up.

The same thing will happen if the senior takes baking pans out of the oven and puts them on top of the stove to cool.

To reduce scratches, however, they could put paper towels, parchment paper, newspaper, or a silicone sheet on top of the stove first.

If they had a questionable pan (one that might scratch), they could even put parchment paper between the pan and cooking element while cooking. Since an induction cook top won’t heat anything but the pan, the paper won’t burn. The same goes for using a silicone sheet.

Here’s another problem – dropping a heavy pan on the induction stove. We’ve all seen an elderly parent do it. I admit, I’ve done it myself and I’m not shaky or weakened by age.

These stove tops are made of very thin glass, so they break easily. If the senior accidentally drops a heavy pan on it (or even sets one down too hard), the cook top may crack or chip.

One last thing – spilled sugar that melts on the “burner” will pit the stove’s surface. Also, the senior can’t use aluminum foil (Mom’s go-to product) or plastic on the hot surface because it will melt. Cook top cleaner will not remove them.

Can A Person With A Pacemaker Use An Induction Stove? How About An Insulin Pump or Defibrillator?

Here’s where induction stoves get tricky.

As I mentioned before, induction stoves produce heat by generating a magnetic field. Electric currents create waves of magnetism that excite iron molecules on the pot or pan. This heats the pan and the food inside it, but the stove top stays cool.

The problem is that the electromagnetic field (EMF) can:

  • Directly impact a pacemaker, implanted cardioverter-defibrillator, or insulin pump.
  • Indirectly affect these devices through leakage of current around the pan if it isn’t sitting completely on the induction coil.

A 2006 study by Irnich and Bernstein on the induction cook top’s effects on pacemakers found that, “Patients are at risk if the implant is unipolar and left-sided, if they stand as close as possible to the induction cooktop, and if the pot is not concentric with the induction coil.”

Before you dismiss this as outdated information, in 2019 The Healthy Home Economist noted that one commenter on her blog reported, “My mothers [sic] induction stove was measured by professionals on EMF and had extreme readings.”

In 2017, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a British diabetes research group, warned that, “Insulin pump manufacturers have stated that items which create a magnetic energy field around their surrounding area are not suitable for use by people using pumps.”

To be safe, it you are near an induction stove, Dr. Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation states that, “Induction hobs do generate electromagnetic fields, so keep a distance of at least 60cm (2ft) between the stovetop and your pacemaker.”

In view of this information, an electric or gas stove may be a better choice for seniors who have insulin pumps or cardiac devices like pacemakers. You can read more about gas stoves in our article, Can Gas Stoves Be Safe For The Elderly?

If your or your senior parent have a pacemaker, implanted defibrillator, or insulin pump – SeniorSafetyAdvice.com recommends that you check with the cardiologist or the manufacturer of the device before installing an induction cook top.

Related Questions

How long do induction cooktops last? Falcon Industries, a UK induction cooktop manufacturer, notes that the average domestic model has a lifetime of about 2,500 cooking hours. If you cook one to two hours a day, every day, an induction cook top would last about 5 years.

Does induction cooker cause cancer? Dr. Andrew Weil notes that, “Although there may be some question about exposure to electromagnetic fields, overall, induction cooking is very safe.”


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