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Flatware Fundamentals

"Flatware” -- term often used interchangeably with silverware -- refers to the knives, forks, spoons and serving utensils you use to eat and serve.

A flatware place setting consists of five pieces: dinner knife, dinner fork, teaspoon, dessert fork and soup spoon.

Most quality stainless steel is actually a metallic blend. You may notice a designation that says "18/8" or "18/10" on the package. That means the pieces have a steel base with 18% chrome for strength, and 8% to 10% nickel for shine. It's a mark of quality -- your assurance that this flatware will last through years of daily use.

Most stainless steel is dishwasher safe and rustproof; some manufacturers recommend you use non-bleach detergents, because chlorine bleach can dull that stainless shine. Abrasive scouring pads might also be too harsh.

Spotless Tip: Letting knives, forks and spoons sit in foods that are very salty or very high in acid (vinegar, citrus fruits and pickles) can leave unsightly marks. Keep stainless away from "silver polish" too; these products are too harsh and will dull stainless steel's natural luster.

Style Tip: Want a new, stylish way to display your flatware at a buffet? Try wrapping each set of knife, fork and spoon in a napkin, then tie it with a festive bow. Not only does it make an especially attractive presentation, but guests have an easier time helping themselves.