Nonstick pans, bake ware, and cookware are the go-to choices for most home cooks. Thanks to the special coating that keeps food from clinging to the surface of the pan, flipping pancakes, frying eggs, and turning sausages are now migraine-free. The nonstick surface also makes it easier to clean up and allows you to cook with less (or even no) oil or butter.
Most nonstick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), more commonly known as the brand-name Teflon. Some home cooks praise this material for its incredible performance in the kitchen. However, others are highly concerned about the swirling rumors about the dangers of nonstick pans once they flake off and are ingested, or when the fumes are inhaled.
But are such claims and concerns warranted? Are nonstick pans safe to use? And what can I do to minimize my exposure to the chemicals used to make them?
Nonstick cookware has been around for decades. It was created using a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, which is a suspected carcinogen. The ideal temperature for heating these types of material is 500°F or lower. However, if PTFE is heated to over 500°F, it starts to lose stability. Once it is heated to 600°F or higher, the PTFE may release dangerous fumes that, when inhaled, can cause symptoms, such as headaches, chills, temporary fever, coughing, and sore throat – or “Teflon flu”. These fumes have been responsible for harming many pet birds, which have very sensitive respiratory tracts.
You probably won’t be required to heat your nonstick pots and pans to 600°F and over, but as a precaution, don’t heat them on your stove’s highest setting. But if you need to, pour the oil first. If you start seeing any smoke, you know your pan is getting very hot.
There’s little to no evidence whatsoever that ingesting PTFE flakes poses a threat to your health. The American Cancer Society states that “Teflon itself is not suspected of causing cancer.” Since PTFE doesn’t react with other chemicals, that statement makes perfect sense.
In the past few years, there have been greater concerns about the related compound perfluorooctanoic acid (or PFOA, for short) that was previously used to manufacture PTFE coatings. The center of concern was that repeated exposure to PTFE could cause PFOA to leach into food.
Studies have found linkages between PFOA and several health conditions such as various cancers (including kidney and testicular cancer) and thyroid disease, and might also affect the reproductive hormones.
However, all Teflon products have been PFOA-free since the end of 2015. In May of that year, over 220 scientists and health experts worldwide agreed and signed to a consensus statement calling on international bodies to limit the production and use of these chemicals (including short-chain and long-chain perfluorinated compounds) and to develop safer nonfluorinated alternatives.
Later on, manufacturers were allowed to short-chain perfluorinated compounds as a substitute for PFOA after the chemical industry suggested that these compounds are eliminated from the body much quicker and are less dangerous than long-chain substances.
While nonstick pans are said to be safe, healthy, and convenient for use, it’s always wise to be on the safe side. If you are not convinced that nonstick pans are safe, you can look for other alternatives that have a long reputation of being safe for use. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) advise that customers avoid even the newest lines of nonstick cookware in favor of stainless-steel and cast-iron pots and pans.
If you decide to continue using nonstick pans, here are several tips to help maintain them and minimize your risk when using them:
You must also know that fluorinated chemicals can also be found in carpets, upholstery, stain-repellent clothing, and in some food packaging.
Nonstick cookware can make your life in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable. However, there have been lingering claims that they can be a threat to your health. Since there have been laws put in place to limit or avoid the use of certain harmful chemicals, we can assume that Teflon cookware is now a healthy and convenient way to cook your food and is safe for everyday use, once they are properly maintained.