Teflon non-stick frying pans are not dangerous in themselves but you need to know how to use them, alternatively, it is better to choose other options
Are non-stick pans safe? This is a question that sooner or later all people who are attentive to their health have asked themselves. We try to clarify.
To prevent food from sticking and for this reason, real culinary disasters have become common use of non-stick pans. However, there is often discussion (and for years now) about some components with which they are made which pose many doubts about the safety of these tools.
Teflon and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid)
“Usually when people ask about the safety of their nonstick cookware, they talk about Teflon,” Suzanne Fenton, a reproductive endocrinologist at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina, told Live Science.
Teflon, also known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), is a clear plastic that’s used to coat metal pots and pans, giving them a waxy, easy-to-clean surface. For decades scientists have debated whether or not it is safe for cooking.
Experts tend to agree that Teflon by itself isn’t a problem. The coating is considered non-toxic, but the concern arises when the pan gets too hot.
“When cookware gets hot, the PTFE coating starts to disintegrate,” said Dr. Fenton.
Of particular interest is then whether or not there is, in the composition of the pan, the presence of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), one of the chemical substances that are released when these utensils heat up. Long-term exposure to PFOA is linked to several unfortunate conditions ranging from cancer to thyroid disease.
On the Airc website about non-stick pans, we read:
“The non-stick coating of pans is not in itself associated with an increased risk of getting cancer or having particular health problems, at least when cooking takes place without reaching too high temperatures and keeping the surface intact. The potential danger of non-stick pans is linked to the presence – increasingly rare in modern products – of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used in some preparation processes of the final product. PFOA is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as class 2B ( possibly carcinogenic to humans ).”
Not all researchers are convinced that people need to worry about Teflon. Some point out that no studies have specifically looked at the long-term effects of Teflon pans on humans. Most of the studies focus on the health effects of Teflon chemical by-products, such as PFOA, which however comes from cases of environmental exposure, such as drinking water or inside factories, where the levels of exposure are much higher than those that can be achieved using non-stick pans.
“In general, nonstick pans aren’t dangerous,” said Kyle Steenland, a professor of environmental health at Emory University in Atlanta.
Some scientists argue that people don’t cook at temperatures high enough for dangerous chemical reactions to occur, but some research suggests that cookware can easily reach a temperature high enough to disintegrate Teflon.
A group of Canadian researchers published a study in the journal Nature in 2001, in which Teflon broke down at 680 degrees Fahrenheit (360 degrees Celsius). A Teflon-coated skillet can reach 750 F (399 C) if left for eight minutes over high heat on a stove, according to a 2017 article published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research.
And even at cooler temperatures, the Teflon coating can break down with use over time according to an article published in the journal Polymer Degradation and Stability. If you consistently heat the pan to 260 F (127 C; the temperature at which we cook steak), the pan should last about 2 to 3 years and no more, according to the study published in Nature.
Taking care of your non-stick pans, using them on medium-low heat, not using utensils that scratch, and changing them every time they get damaged are undoubtedly useful tips to ensure healthier cooking. But, in some cases, it’s best to ditch Teflon pans altogether, just to be safe, Fenton added. This is particularly true for pregnant women, nursing mothers, or those with small children at home.
PFOA in particular is linked precisely to problems in the development of children. This is because it is considered an endocrine disruptor, furthermore, the substance is associated with obesity, diabetes, poor sperm quality, and irregular menstrual cycles.
The Airc points out that:
“Pots and pans with non-stick coating, especially the more modern ones made in compliance with current regulations, are not dangerous to health, provided they are used appropriately”.
If you’re not sure about doing this, though, and under the conditions Dr. Fenton outlined above, it’s always good to adjust your options in the kitchen.
Fortunately, there are a variety of other options on the market for those who want to avoid these materials. So look for Teflon and PFOA Free non-stick pots and pans or choose something else. (In the following article we listed some options: 10 alternatives to common non-stick pans and pots