Who doesn’t like non stick frying pans and pots? Well, they are super easy to clean, food rarely sticks on the surface, and they allow you to cook effortlessly with less oil. But, are they safe?
While nonstick cookware may seem to be getting the job done quite well, there are some concerns about its safety. Claims have been raised that nonstick coating isn’t safe as it tends to emit toxic chemicals that are closely linked to cancer and other related chronic health conditions.
In this article, we’re going to discuss in detail about nonstick cookware, its advantages, risks, nonstick alternatives, and how you can use it with safety. Stay tuned!
What is Nonstick Cookware? Is it Safe?
Non stick cookware is any cookware such as saucepans and frying pans that has been coated with a nonstick material. The nonstick material can either be ceramic or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon.
Of all nonstick products, about 99% are made from Teflon. While Ceramic material is considered safe, dozens of studies have tuned up with conflicting conclusions about the safety of Teflon cookware.
Teflon, chemically referred to as Polytetrafluoroethylene, is a synthetic material made up of carbon and fluorine atoms that was first used in the 1930s. Since then, its popularity has grown due to its strong, nonstick, and non-reactive surface.
The negative effects of Teflon non stick products were centered on the use of a dangerous chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, which was used in the making of Teflon until 2015. When heated, PFOA is suspected of emitting toxic chemicals. Fortunately, most non stick cookware manufacturers have phased out the use of PFOA.
Some of the health conditions associated with PFOA exposure include breast cancer, reduced fertility, prostate cancer, and liver tumors. Besides, the fumes produced are dangerous to birds and could kill them if inhaled in large amounts.
However, Teflon is still feared to emit toxic chemicals when overheated to specific temperatures. The gases emitted when heating the pan is linked to flu-like symptoms and headaches (polymer fume fever). This mostly happens with new cookware.
Away from chemical release, nonstick cookware also gets damaged with time and flake off. If that happens, there’s a chance of plastic mixing up with your food. Fortunately, reports suggest that ingesting small flakes of nonstick material isn’t that dangerous – it’s just likely to pass through the body without any harm.
If possible, you should replace your cookware once you notice it’s flaking. It would also help if you seasoned your cookware regularly to preserve its lifespan.
Which Temperature Is Safe?
Most Teflon non stick cookware will begin to emit toxic chemicals when overheated, but then, which temperature is too hot? According to experts, when a nonstick material is heated above 500°F and above, it begins to break down, releasing small chemical fragments.
According to the Environmental Working Group, which is a nonprofit watchdog organization, when Teflon is heated above 680 °F, it decomposes significantly, releasing six toxic chemicals, including two carcinogens.
While the gases emitted might not kill you, they are strong enough to kill birds or cause polymer-fume fever and headaches in humans. However, it’s worth noting that long-term exposure can cause health problems.
To be safe, you shouldn’t expose your nonstick cookware to a temperature of more than 500°F. Otherwise, you risk exposing yourself to harmful gases. Since nonstick cookware tends to heat up quite quickly, you should cook at low-to-medium heat.
It’s also worth noting that nonstick cookware isn’t entirely bad. Some of its advantages include:
- It’s easy to clean
- Requires minimal maintenance
- Requires less oil to cook
- Food cooks faster
- Releases food better
- Lesser or no food sticks on the surface
Should I Buy Non-Stick Cookware?
Well, it depends on how you’re planning on using it. Before investing in any nonstick cookware, it’s essential to understand its purpose and then determine the best type of cookware to invest in.
For instance, if you’re buying a non stick egg frying pan where low-moderate heating is required, it’s highly unlikely to cause any problems. However, it’s not a suitable option for frying fish.
If you’re looking for nonstick cookware where high temperatures should be reached – such as boiling and roasting, you should consider investing in a safer nonstick option such as cast iron.
As well, if you’re planning on using the cookware regularly, a heavier nonstick material like cast iron is recommended. However, if you only use the cookware on special occasions and low-moderate heating, a Teflon cookware is fine.
How To Use Nonstick Cookware Safely
If you can follow basic safety precautions, nonstick cookware is entirely safe to use. To reduce the risks of exposure to toxic substances, keep in mind the following safety tips;
- Never preheat an empty cookware
When nonstick cookware is preheated without any liquid or food, it reaches high temperatures quickly, potentially emitting harmful fumes.
According to experts, most pans heat to over 500°F in less than 5 minutes, with cheap models overheat under 2 minutes. Therefore, always make sure nonstick cookware is not empty before you preheat.
- Don’t cook on high heat
While some manufacturers claim that their nonstick cookware is safe to use under any temperature, if possible, always cook under low-medium heat. To be safe, nonstick cookware should be heated to 500°F or more.
Also, avoid cooking on power burners above 2,400 watts or 12,000 BTUs on gas. You should also avoid food techniques that require high temperatures, such as broiling.
- Replace old cookware
With time, you may notice scratches, flaking, chipping, and peeling of the non stick material on your cookware. When this happens, it’s a sign that you need to replace it. Otherwise, you risk eating plastic in your food.
- Ventilate your kitchen
Always make sure that your kitchen is well-ventilated when cooking to clear the air in case any harmful gases are released.
- Make sure the cookware is well maintained
Since nonstick cookware is easy to clean, always hand wash them using warm soapy water. In case food sticks on the surface, avoid scrubbing it off because it can ruin the nonstick material.
Just pour a little water and allow it to soak for a few minutes, then gently wash away the food remains using a soft sponge. To avoid scratching, don’t use steel wool and other harsh cleaning tools and detergents.
After cleaning, always dry off the cookware before storing it. To preserve its lifespan, you can season it regularly.
Alternatives To Nonstick
If you’re still unsure about the safety of nonstick cookware, don’t use it. Below are some great non-Teflon alternatives worth considering;
- Stainless steel – it’s safe, durable, scratch-resistant, and easy to clean & maintain.
- Stoneware – It’s natural, can withstand high temperature, it’s durable, and heats evenly. If well-seasoned, it’s nonstick.
- Cast-iron – It’s naturally nonstick. It’s oven and dishwasher safe, easy to clean, can withstand very high temperature, and can serve you for a lifetime.
- Ceramic – It’s durable and contains nonstick properties.
Whether or not non stick cookware is safe entirely depends on how you use it. If you can follow the simple nonstick safety precautions that we’ve discussed above, then you’re safe. If you still doubt the safety of nonstick cookware, you can consider some of the alternatives that we’ve discussed above.