You may have encountered the term “non-stick” often while purchasing cookware for your kitchen. Non-stick cookware is a cooking vessel on/in which the food slowly browns but does not stick to the pan.
In 2015, the Telegraph released an article asking, “Are we being poisoned by non-stick pans?” This article surfaced when scientists claimed using non-stick cookware is detrimental to our health.
You might be wondering what non-stick cookware is made up of that has led to questioning any danger to the health of consumers. The general answer is polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as “Teflon,” that is used in making non-stick cookware. The safety of non-stick cookware has been under study for the past 10-15 years.
Some chemicals allegedly released by overheating non-stick cookware are PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), mainly the PFC (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid) family. (PFOA is no longer used in making Teflon after 2013)
Non-stick cookware has a smooth surface, though once there is a scratch, the cookware begins to degrade and then slowly starts to enter into your food and then slowly makes way into your body. PFAS’s and PTFE’s don’t pass out of the body, and this results in bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation is the process in which substances such as PFAS and PTFE’s accumulate in the human body and cause harm.
The smooth layer of coating slowly wears off when you use a metal whisk or spatula with a non-stick pan. Non-stick cookware is more expensive than the other alternatives available on the market; hence, more care needs to be taken to maintain the cookware once you have invested in it.
Harmful chemicals of non-stick pans
Studies show that PFOA and PFOS can cause problems to pregnant women and developmental, liver, tumor and kidney effects in animals. The findings are higher cholesterol levels among exposed public, non-cancer health concerns associated with PFCs (PFOA and PFOS over certain levels), including fluctuations in cholesterol concentrations in the body, obesity, developmental effects to the fetus during pregnancy, cancer for PFOA, and thyroid hormone disorder for PFOS.
Particular PFC chemicals aren’t produced in the United States anymore due to the discontinuation and the PFOA Stewardship Program. While in other countries, manufacturers of non-stick pans mention a note which says this cookware must not be used beyond the cooking temperatures mentioned in the instructions, and that the instructions should also be followed during the cleaning process.
When you cook your eggs or bacon on the non-stick cookware at very high temperatures, the air in your kitchen is polluted with Teflon fumes which are harmful to your body. Studies conducted on the harmfulness of PFC’s show that they take a minimum of 4 years to degrade even after their consumption has been stopped. Teflon also does not easily degrade in the environment.
Be careful while using your non-stick cookware
If you currently use non-stick cookware, you don’t need to panic. Not all non-stick cookware is made of PFC’s, while most of them are. It is advised not to throw them out as they have more harmful effects on the environment. Also, avoid using non-stick cookware when the recipe requires you to preheat the dish, and don’t use non-stick cookware in an oven or microwave which is hotter than 500° F.
Clean the cookware with a soft sponge and never use steel scrubbers as they damage the coating and break it down; just use them with a bit more care and the next time you go to purchase cookware, look for other alternatives. In this day and age, there are many substitutes which are safer and also cost less than non-stick cookware.
Substitute to non-stick
- Stainless steel—Stainless steel cookware is always preferred for sauces and pasta; it helps brown the dish better than non-stick cookware and also has no associated risks
- Cast iron—A properly seasoned cast iron pan can be considered as a non-stick pan, a safer and a healthier alternative. Though acidic dishes cannot be made in them, as they react; hence, you can opt for stainless steel or aluminum cookware
- Stoneware—People have used this for over 100 of years, and it is a 100% safe cookware. It is toxin-free and lasts longer when taken care of
Non-stick cookware is more comfortable to use and convenient as the cleaning process is made much easier, but would you want to take such a risk? Teflon and other members of the PFC family emit fumes and gases that are harmful to you, your family and your pets.
There are safer alternatives available on the market that do not have such adverse effects, so are you still going to opt for these toxic non-stick cookware when you next shop for pots and pans?