Is Nonstick Cookware safe to use?
The convenience of non-stick pans has made them incredibility popular for many home cooks but is it safe to use non-stick cookware?
The answer, like most dealing with commercial product dangers, is a complex one. With care, non-stick coated cookware is safe to use and hold many benefits for users, but if misused there is evidence it can produce harmful substances.
With the changes to regulations concerning the use of PFOA in non-stick coatings there is no risk of being exposed to the chemical in newer pans.
Still for those who are concerned there are steps you can take to reduce any potential exposure and many alternative materials that are great for cookware the will have no health risks when properly used.
What is Non-stick Cookware 7 Non-stick cookware usually refers to pot and pans with a bonded non-stick surface, typically this coating will be made from Teflon. There are other non-stick coatings but they are rarer and often have a price to match.
Non-stick cookware is very popular for its easy to clean surface and cooking benefits, but there has been more recent worry about the chemicals used to make the coating itself. However modern non-stick surfaces are generally no risk to their users.
Teflon and PFOA Exposure
The most common non-stick coating is made using Teflon. In 2004 the EPA discovered the use of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, being used to make the Teflon non-stick surfaces. At this time it was known that PFOA was a carcinogen and potentially linked to several health issues. At that point the EPA filled complaints against the makers of Teflon, DuPont, and the use of PFOA was phased out of production.
With this chemical out of production only pans made before 2013 or from places without these sort of regulations can expose a user to PFOA, so it is best to check manufacturing dates and locations. Even with older pans, with careful use there is little risk of problems caused by PFOA.
Dangers of Overheating the Non-Stick Cookware
The main danger from non-stick coatings is when it is over heated, ingesting small amounts of the coating, such as it flaking off because of damage or age, is considered to be of little to no health risk.
This upper heating limit will typically be included in the manufactures instructions on the cookware packaging. However for those who do not read it or got their cookware second hand they may overheat their cookware.
This can cause problems these problems include the vaporization of the PFOA materials in the non-stick coating. As mentioned above this is a known carcinogen and furthermore, in extreme cases can cause, polymer fume fever, also known as the Teflon flu.
Symptoms will generally show up 4-10 hours after exposure and will fade in one or two days. With careful use this should not be an issue and newer pans do not use the chemical PFOA.
Benefits of Non-Stick Pots and Pans
As the name suggests the main benefit of a non-stick pan is things do not stick to it, but there are a few other benefits to a non-stick surface.
- Less oil/butter use Due to the non-stick surface there is less need for oils or butter to stop sticking, as such food cooked in a non-stick pan is lower in fat.
- The coating helps with even distribution of heat, making it easier to cook food without burning or under cooked areas.
- The non-stick coating also helps stop stuck food from burning on the bottom of your pan/s.
Tips to Minimize Your Risk While Cooking
- Always cook less than 500 degrees Fahrenheit. This means not turning the temperature on your stove onto high and being careful with any preheating and what oils you cook with Searing meats is generally a poor idea in a non-stick pan, as the high temperatures can reach this temperature limit.
- Buy thick bottomed cookware. It is easier to control the heat of a thicker bottomed pan; they will also typically have more durable non-stick surfaces, reducing the chance of flaking or cracking.
- Make sure you cook in a well-ventilated area. This can help reduce the chances of inhaling any potential PFOA fumes.
Alternatives to Non-Stick Cookware
There are a few non-stick surfaces that do not use Teflon but they can be expensive, so looking at other cookware material is a good idea if you are concerned about using Teflon coatings. Assuming you are buying the best quality pots and pans these are the generally used material types,
Stoneware is a great choice for those wanting an easy to clean surface, with care they are non-stick and durable. It is one of the best skillets for omelets. Will need to be regularly seasoned
Available in both bare cast iron and enameled versions, cast iron is a superior cooking surface. These pans tend to be thick bottomed and heavy, and if correctly seasoned will be relatively non-stick. They also tend to improve with age.
A commonly used cookware material, stainless steel is safe and durable. Also available in layered versions which can include central layers or bottoms of copper or aluminum. Without a layer of magnetic steel or other magnetic material stainless steel will not work on induction stop tops.
Somewhere between stainless steel and cast iron, carbon steel is less prone to rust and a reasonable heat conductor but like cast iron needs careful care. Improves with age and needs to be seasoned.
Though expensive copper has some of the best heat conductivity of commonly used cookware materials and if you have the budget is well worth a look. Copper does require regular care, such as polishing to maintain shin. It will not work on induction surfaces.
A common cookware material is easy to clean, rust free and durable. It will not work on induction surfaces without other materials so make sure to check if you need induction capable pans.
Not commonly used for stove top cooking, but what pans are available tend to be of excellent quality and, with care, will be mostly non stick.
Ceramic and silicon
These are materials used for backing cookware not stove top cooking, so are less relevant but worth mentioning.
With the changes to regulations concerning the use of PFOA in non-stick coatings there is no risk of being exposed to the chemical in newer pans. Still for those who are concerned there are steps you can take to reduce any potential exposure and many alternative materials that are great for cookware the best set of pots and pans will have no health risks when properly used.