Nonstick pans and cookware brought convenience to the kitchen when they first hit the shelves. Easy to clean, fun to cook in and really lightweight, the nonstick pans began to replace other pans that a kitchen may have favored before.
However, times are changing, and so are the opinions about using nonstick pans, especially those coated with Teflon. You’ll be surprised to read some of the findings we’ve compiled for you!
Teflon: What Is It And Why Is It Bad?
Your nonstick pan gets its smooth and shiny characteristics thanks to this chemical coating called Teflon. Known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), this chemical was discovered somewhere in the 1930s to change the cooking game by creating a non-reactive and nonstick surface.
It was also popularly used on wires, fabric and other materials to make them waterproof and durable. In fact, carpets, paints and even clothing began to incorporate Teflon in their processes to make them resistant to grease and oil.
Until 2013, Teflon was created using a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); this would burn off during the processing stages. However, a research conducted showed that PFOA was still present on various Teflon pans and nonstick cookware – and then came trouble. Turns out, PFOA was closely linked to causing thyroid disorders, testicular cancer, kidney disease and liver disease. This was further proven when 98% of a group of people who used Teflon pans had PFOA in their bloodstream.
Soon after, a program led by the EPA began to pressure leading PFOA-producing companies to eliminate its use by 2015, especially keeping it away from cookware.
Teflon Pans, PTFE And PFOA: A Complicated Triangle
Teflon can be introduced into the human body via inhalation and ingestion.
After Teflon became big in the markets and kitchens began to use nonstick pans, observations were made. Turns out, those working in Teflon producing and using factories were coming down with a strange sickness characterized by fever, shivering, a sore throat and coughing. You may know this as the infamous polymer fume fever – or the Teflon Flu.
PTFE fumes were blamed for toxicity and illness. Some studies went on to report that birds apparently died from fumes of Teflon pans that were left burning on the stove. And later studies showed that birds like parakeets and quails could not sustain the Teflon fumes and would die after exposure for four hours.
Alarming, isn’t it? But that’s not all.
PTFE became the thing of the past when PFOA came to light. Initially, food cooked in Teflon pans, which was simply PTFE, was okay to eat; the chemical would pass through the digestive tract shortly after food cooked in that pan was consumed.
But PFOA? The residues of the compound that remained onto the pan apparently seep into the food when then pan is constantly used. This could happen due to continuous heating and cooling and reusing of the Teflon pan. The consequence of these was discovered in 2011 and 2012, when researchers began to make connections with PFOA and hormonal imbalances, reproductive health and fetal development.
Are Teflon Pans Emitting These Chemicals Into My Body?
Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer for this.
Not Hot Enough
The usual temperature that food is cooked on ranges between 130 degrees and 280 degrees Celsius and according to researchers, PTFE degrades at higher temperatures. Though Teflon has been PFOA-free since 2013, it’s highly stressed not to exceed the 300 degree Celsius mark. So unless you’re planning on having charred ribs for dinner, you’re probably safe.
The temperature used to cook food isn’t enough to generate polymer fumes either, which is why you have probably never felt the symptoms we’ve discussed above. However, leaving nonstick pans burning for long periods of time or unattended can be hazardous and increase the risk of fumes emitting.
Teflon Levels in The Body
Again, there is no clear cut answer as to how much Teflon, PTFE and PFOA there is in your body. However, researchers tested the breast milk of 45 new mothers and noted that around 44 billionth of a gram of PFOA per 1 liter of milk was present.
The Million Dollar Question: Why Are Teflon Pans Bad For You?
Now that you’re aware of a little bit of science that goes on in the making of your favorite Teflon pan, it’s time to get to why Teflon pans are bad for you.
Heat and Teflon Don’t Go Too Well Together
Ironically, Teflon has a sensitive relationship with heat. You cannot use your nonstick pan on high heat because that reduces its durability. There’s also a high chance that your food will get overheated, especially fats. Then there is also the danger of toxic fumes being released if the Teflon pan has been on the stove for too long.
Overheating the pan and accidental exposure to the fumes can increase your susceptibility to the Teflon Flu – and also lung problems, headaches, and body aches. Yikes!
You Can’t Trust the Coating
Nonstick pans are prone to scratches if metal utensils are used on them. But that’s not all why you can’t trust the coating – the usual wear and tear can also compromise the integrity of the coating and when scratched, it can be pretty harmful.
When the coating is scratched, there is a higher risk of harmful chemicals being released into your food while it cooks. This increases your chance of ingesting toxic chemicals, which lead to the accumulation of chemicals in your bloodstream.
The Environmentalists Really Hate It
Even though the EPA successfully eliminated the use of PFOA in the manufacturing of Teflon pans and pots, the environmentalists still aren’t happy, and they’re probably right.
Turns out, PFOA was replaced by other chemicals like GenX, which created serious concern when it was found in a city’s water supply.
Long Term Use Has Consequences on Important Body Organs
As highlighted above, Teflon fumes are potent enough to kill birds, which is alarming on its own.
Besides, the risk it poses to human health is also alarming. The process your Teflon pan goes through to become the nonstick beauty that it involves the use of many chemicals, which are now sitting dormant on the said cookware. However, though researchers argue that Teflon pans don’t cause cancer and PFOA does, there is still uncertainty about it.
And of course, not to mention how harmful the Teflon Flu is and how damaging the fumes are for the lungs, especially for those with breathing difficulties.
It Increases Your Body Fat Deposits
The obesity epidemic is a pretty alarming one. Brown University found out that pregnant woman who were exposed to high levels of chemicals associated with Teflon production had children who gained weight more quickly and had higher body fat percentages.
Certain chemicals that Teflon pans and any other nonstick pans and cookware are made of can cause the human body’s metabolism to slow down. This, of course, leads to problems with weight regulation.
Should I Throw Away My Teflon Pans And Nonstick Cookware?
Although this decision rests entirely upon your own shoulders, there are ways you can minimize the damage that Teflon can cause.
Taking Care While Cooking
Improper use of nonstick pans and Teflon cookware can have devastating effects on food quality and, ultimately, health.
Using Your Pan
When cooking using a Teflon pan, it’s best to start with an empty pan and avoid preheating it. That way, the coating is less likely to heat up and produce toxic fumes.
Maintaining a Safe Temperature
As emphasized before, Teflon pans begin to degrade their chemicals after 300 degrees Celsius. This means it is a good idea to just sauté your side veggies in your Teflon frying pan and use the old cast iron pan to cook your steak.
Utensils to Use
Avoid using any sharp, metallic or corrosive utensils to stir your food when cooking on a nonstick pan. Any sharp spoons or forks will most likely damage the nonstick coating, which can deteriorate the quality of your food. Scratched surfaces also increase the likelihood of toxic chemicals migrating to your meal and being released via fumes. Use wooden utensils – or safe plastic ones.
Taking Care of Your Teflon Pan After Cooking
After cooking, it’s important to thoroughly wash and rinse your Teflon plan and hang it to dry. You must avoid using corrosive or rough sponges and scrubs to clean the nonstick surface – this increases the incidence of scratches and coat peeling.
However, if your pan’s nonstick surface does get scratched, replace it.
Replacing Your Teflon Pans With Other (Safer) Cookware
Or if your Teflon pan isn’t as appealing as it was 5 minutes ago, you may want to check out other alternatives. In fact, there are tons of cookware you can choose from to create your favorite dishes – and most of them won’t introduce harmful toxins in your body.
Stainless Steel Pans
Turn the clock back and bring out that big old stainless steel pot. Mostly made from chromium and nickel, stainless steel is one of the best alternatives for Teflon pans.
It’s hygienic, very durable, resistant to scratches and also pretty safe to use over high heat. You can even safely store food in it for long periods of time.
Not only is ceramic cookware pretty, but as one of the alternatives to Teflon pans, it’s the closest you can get to the nonstick experience. It’s healthier, easy to cook in, and also cooks food at similar temperatures to its nonstick counterparts.
It also adds a nice, earthy taste to your food.
Cast Iron Pans
Cast iron pans will never go out of fashion. It’s very durable and prepped to cook almost anything you place on it.
It’s a much safer alternative to Teflon, considering it can handle high heat and still not react or diminish food quality.
One of the best conductors of heat, copper cookware prepares your meals quite quickly.
It’s also pretty durable but needs to be maintained. Every now and then, pick a dish-safe polish and apply it to your ceramic cookware to bring back its luster and shine.
Although there is a controversy about aluminum cookware too, it’s still another option. Aluminum cookware is great if used for a short time and on low heat.
Of course, you shouldn’t keep your food in it longer than necessary. Aluminum frying pans, for example, are great for quickly sautéing thin strips of veggies.
Conclusion: Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Your Teflon Pan?
The world of food has made admirable developments. From being able to preserve fresh apples for days and baking mass bread within minutes, the developments still don’t come without consequences.
The best way to ensure you’re getting the most of your food is by ensuring that the cookware you use is being maintained and washed properly. It’s also essential to not overheat food or cook it longer than it should be and to never leave your Teflon pans on heat for too long.
However, there are other alternatives, too! Whether you buy the Anti-Teflon debate or not, it’s always a good idea to have different kinds of cookware available, right?
Anyway. Be sure to carefully use your Teflon pans and invest in alternatives if you plan on cooking on high heat for a prolonged period of time!
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