There’s no doubting the ease of cooking with non stick pans but given there are persistent concerns raised about their safety it’s worth understanding the risks.
First a bit of history
Teflon was invented by global chemical giant DuPont in the 1930’s but ran into trouble when it was discovered that perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is used to make teflon was discovered to be a likely carcinogen (cancer causing substance).
In 2004 DuPont paid $300 million to settle a class action by 50,000 US residents that lived in the water catchment of its West Virginia plant. The residents claimed PFOA contamination of the water supply had caused birth defects and other health hazards. Then in 2005, the US EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million after finding the company knew about the dangers of PFOA’s for decades but kept quiet about it.
Good Riddance to PFOA’s
Further studies into the effect of PFOA’s on animals found it caused cancer, liver damage, growth defects, immune-system damage and death. Consequently under pressure form the EPA DuPont and other companies agreed to phase out the use of PFOA’s in the making of non stick cookware from 2015.
However DuPont maintained that whilst PFOA’s were released in the manufacture of Teflon, use of the finished product by consumers did not result in release of PFOA’s so was considered safe. Nevertheless PFOA’s have been phased out due to their environmental impact and most leading manufacturers now label their non stick cookware as PFOA free. But that’s not the end of the story!
Can’t Stand the Heat
All non-stick cookware if heated above 500 degrees celsius starts to break down and release toxic gases which cause what is know as polymer fume fever or ‘Teflon flu’. Symptoms include temporary intense fever, shivering, sore throat and coughing. Birds are especially susceptible to exposure to polymer fumes with several cases of birds being killed when owners have left non-stick pans on the stove to overheat. Whist the effects of Teflon flu are considered to be temporary in humans no studies have investigated the long term effects of repeated exposure.
So Should I Throw Out My Non-Stick Pans?
The take home message if you love non-stick cookware is that you need to be careful to not let the pan overheat. Heavier pans are better than lightweight ones as the lighter the pan the more quickly it overheats. Non-stick cookware is not suitable for foods that require cooking on high heat for an extended period time. So scrambled eggs and stir fries are considered safe but hamburgers and steak are considered risky. If the surface of your pan is scrached or chipped you should definitely get rid of it as when the surface is damaged its more likely to leach toxic compunds.
At the end of the day non-stick pans have never ben recalled for safety fears. Nevertheless I wouldn't blame anyone for deciding that, despite the convenience, non-stick pans are not worth the risk.
Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stress, anxiety and depression.
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupuncture, herbal medicine and meditation.