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Non-Stick Cookware: Safe or Suspicious?

Posted By Lisa Poisso On 15th November 2006 @ 01:11 In Food Matters, Health & Wellness, House & Home | No Comments

By Tara Bzdok

Trying to decide whether to throw out your nonstick cookware? The answer is somewhere between yes and no, depending on your specific situation.

If your pans are more than two years old, you may want to trash them and go for a shiny new stainless steel set, especially if the nonstick surface is scratched or chipped. If you are a bird owner, it is a good idea to use a nonstick alternative. If you care about the life cycle of your products, such as their net impact on the environment and workers in factories, you may want to reconsider a decision to purchase that new nonstick set. Oh, and if you do use nonstick, please do not cook anything on high heat or you will release at least six toxic gases into your home.

The Life Cycle of a Non-Stick Surface

The synthetic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), aka C8, is used to make fluoropolymers, which are in turn used to produce non-stick surfaces as well as stain proof and water proof clothing. Studies show that workers handling PFOA have higher rates of heart attack and stroke, but PFOA is used up in the process and is present in negligible amounts in the final product.

PFOA is not released when a nonstick-coated pan is heated. However, PFOA is released into the air and water during its manufacture. The EPA does not know the specifics on how the population is being exposed, but 95 percent of Americans have PFOA in their cells and the majority of babies are born with the substance in their blood. It has been suggested that the accumulation in the body is due in part to industrial emissions as well as exposure to clothing items with protective fabric coating (now banned), as well as a food packaging material called Zonyl RP, which contaminates food and is broken down by the body into PFOA.

PFOA has been shown to cause tumors in lab animals and has been deemed by some scientists as a likely carcinogen. It is a persistent pollutant that biodegrades at a very slow rate. The EPA has imposed orders on PFOA manufacturers to drastically reduce their emissions of the chemical by 2015.

Cooking With and Without Non-Stick

Although PFOA is not released when nonstick pans are heated, six other toxic gases are, including two that are known carcinogens at temperatures above 680 degrees Fahrenheit. If you keep your heat low or medium settings, you should be ok. Perhaps you could use your non-stick pans for eggs and pancakes and choose stainless or cast iron to cook other foods.

Birds are sensitive to the chemicals being released from nonstick cookware, even at low temperatures. I recommend choosing an alternative type of cookware if you are a bird owner.

Hard Anodized vs. Aluminum

Plain aluminum pans should not be used for cooking, period. It doesn’t make sense to use something so reactive to cook food. When aluminum is covered with non-stick coating, it does not come in contact with the food until the coating starts to wear off or is scratched. When the exposed aluminum begins reacting with food as it cooks, it causes more of the coating to come off — and pretty soon, you are cooking mainly on aluminum.

Hard-anodized aluminum pans are a much better choice, with or without non-stick coating. The non-stick coating on hard-anodized cookware lasts much longer and is not as dangerous when it starts to wear out. [1] Circulon cookware has grooves that help the coating last even longer. So if you are going to go for nonstick, a high-quality pan is a must!

Care and Maintenance of Cookware

Seasoning your pans once in a while, non-stick or not, can help them perform and last. For non-stick pans, seasoning simply means rubbing the non-stick surface with oil and putting it away. For hard-anodized without non-stick, the Meyer Corporation’s guide to cookware recommends that you “spread cooking oil lightly over the entire interior surface and place the pan in a moderate oven for one hour. Let the pan cool and wipe off excess oil with a paper towel.” It is also a good idea to wash all pans by hand as opposed to in a dishwasher, especially if they are non-stick.

Wooden utensils are the best for use on non-stick surfaces, because plastic also releases chemicals when heated.

Although Teflon® is the most widely recognized non-stick surface on the market, others are made from the same materials and release the same toxins.

Better Choices

Stainless steel A poor heat conductor, but a copper or aluminum base should do the trick. [2] All Clad is one brand that is widely available.
Cast iron Wonderful except for the sheer weight and the tendency to rust. Proper care includes seasoning and thorough drying after washing. Available from [3] Lodge Manufacturing.
Glass A wonderful choice! Available from [4] Visions by Pyrex.
Enamel on steel A fine choice, but make sure it does not contain lead. Available from [5] Chantal Cookware.
Copper A great heat conductor, but should be lined with enamel or stainless steel. Available from [6] Falk Culinair.


[7] Basic Information on PFOA
[8] EPA Settles PFOA Case Against DuPont for Largest Environmental Administrative Penalty in Agency History
[9] EWG Assessment of EPA Draft Human Health Risk Assessment for the Teflon Chemical PFOA
[10] Should I Throw Out All My Non-Stick Pans? by P.W. McRandle
[11] Study Finds Teflon Chemical In Newborns’ Umbilical Cords
[12] DuPont to phase out PFOA packaging chemical by Ahmed ElAmin
[13] Meyer Corporation’s Guide to Care of Cookware
[14] Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center

© Tara Bzdok

Tara Bzdok is a freelance writer, antique book dealer and single mother with a passion for natural living. She has a B.A. in English literature and will begin working on her master’s degree in human nutrition in the fall of 2006.

Article printed from Natural Family Online magazine: http://www.naturalfamilyonline.com/go

URL to article: http://www.naturalfamilyonline.com/go/index.php/330/nonstick-cookware/

URLs in this post:
[1] Circulon: http://circulon.com/pans
[2] All Clad:
[3] Lodge Manufacturing: http://www.lodgemfg.com/
[4] Visions by Pyrex: http://www.visions-cookware.com/index.asp
[5] Chantal Cookware: http://www.chantal.com/index.asp
[6] Falk Culinair: http://www.copperpans.com
[7] Basic Information on PFOA: http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/pfoa/pfoainfo.htm#long
[8] EPA Settles PFOA Case Against DuPont: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/68b5f2d54f3eefd28525701500517fbf/fdcb2f

[9] EWG Assessment of EPA Draft Human Health Risk Assessment for the Teflon Chemical PFOA : http://www.ewg.org/issues/pfcs/20050112/scienceanalysis.php
[10] Should I Throw Out All My Non-Stick Pans?: http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc.mhtml?i=ask&s=nonstick
[11] Study Finds Teflon Chemical In Newborns’ Umbilical Cords: http://a.tribalfusion.com/h.click/
[12] DuPont to phase out PFOA packaging chemical: http://www.packwire.com/news/ng.asp?n=65503-dupont-chemical-pfoa
[13] Meyer Corporation’s Guide to Care of Cookware: http://www.meyer.com/cwguide/cwg14.html
[14] Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center: http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC3864.htm

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