Let us blame info commensals, those that tell us we need to buy those frying pans and saucepans that are coated with a layer of polytetrafluoroethylene, or commonly known as Teflon, then we can use less oil which will make our cooking healthier. Teflon has been around since the 9130s, and is a synthetic chemical made up of carbon and fluorine atoms that provides a nonstick, almost frictionless surface.
But the question recently is, is that nonstick coating really safe? Some have linked Teflon to health concerns such as cancer.
This article will delve into the research of nonstick cookware, by looking at the health benefits and examining if this technology is harmful or not.
What is nonstick cookware?
Nonstick cookware, such as frying pans and saucepans, has been coated with a material called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon.
Teflon is a synthetic chemical made up of carbon and fluorine atoms.
It was first made in the 1930s, and provides a nonreactive, nonstick and almost frictionless surface (1).
The nonstick surface makes Teflon-coated cookware convenient to use and easy to clean. It also requires little oil or butter, making it a healthy way to cook and fry food.
Teflon has a number of other applications. It is also used to make wire and cable coatings, fabric and carpet protectors, and waterproof fabrics for outdoor clothing such as raincoats (2, 3).
However, over the past decade, the safety of nonstick cookware has been under investigation.
The concerns have centered on a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was previously used to produce nonstick cookware, but is not used today. In fact, the use of this chemical stopped in 2013. If you have a pan that was made before 2013, it might contain this chemical. Perfluorooctanoic acid has been linked to different health issues such as thyroid disorders, chronic kidney disease, liver disease and testicular cancer. It has also been linked to infertility and low birth weight.
Nonetheless, the PFOA Stewardship Program, that was started in 2006 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spear headed the elimination of PFOA from Teflon products. This program has been effective and met its target two years beforehand.
This program involved eight leading PFOA companies, including the maker of Teflon, and it aimed to reduce the health and environmental risks associated with PFOA exposure by eliminating PFOA use and emissions by the year 2015.
Dangers of overheating
It is normally agreed that Teflon is a safe and stable compound. However, once Teflon is over heated, meaning exposed to temperatures above 570°F Teflon coatings on nonstick cookware start to break down, releasing toxic chemicals into the air. The problem is inhaling these fumes may lead to polymer fume fever, also known as the Teflon flu. The signs of this flu could include chills, fever, headache and body aches. The onset occurs after 4–10 hours of exposure, and the condition usually resolves within 12–48 hours.
A very serious side effect could be such as lung damage, but this is normally rare. Still, there were cases of people that were exposed to fumes from overcooked Teflon cookware at extreme temperatures of at least 730°F (390°C), and were exposed for extended periods of at least four hours.
That all said, even though there are some health concerns of overheated Teflon, using common-sense cooking practices will help you avoid exposure.
Some tips to reduce your risk when using Teflon products
If you follow the rudimentary safety precautions, cooking with nonstick cookware is healthy, safe, and useful. However, to get the benefits of this material without the issues, follow these tips:
Do not preheat an empty pan. This is as empty pans can reach high temperatures within minutes, potentially causing the release of polymer fumes. Take care that there are some food or liquid in pots and pans before you preheat.
Avoid cooking on high heat, but rather cook on a medium or low heat and avoid broiling, since this cooking technique requires temperatures above those recommended for nonstick cookware.
Ventilate your kitchen when you are busy cooking, or turn on your exhaust fan or open up windows to help clear any fumes.
Use wooden, silicone or plastic utensils as metal utensils can lead to scuffs and scratches on the nonstick surface, reducing the life of your cookware.
Hand wash your pots gently wash pots with a sponge and soapy, warm water. Do not use steel wool or scouring pads, since they can scratch the surface.
Replace old cookware when you spot your Teflon coatings start to visibly deteriorate with excessive scratches, peeling, flaking and chipping, they are ready to be replaced.
Nonstick cookware, made with chemical called PTFE, also known as Teflon, which makes cooking and washing up fast and easy. There were some concerns about Teflon, and the previous compound that was used, but now Teflon is PFOA-free since 2013. This means that today’s nonstick and Teflon cookware is safe for normal home cooking, as long as temperatures do not exceed 570°F.