For anyone who loves flipping pancakes and frying eggs for weekend brunch or simmering a delicate slice of fish on the stovetop, non stick pans are truly meal-savers. With a non stick pan, you can cook with a small amount of oil (hurray for healthy hearts!) and enjoy an easier cleanup. Non stick pans are fundamentally better than ceramic pans. With their specially coated surfaces, non stick pans allow home chefs to stir, flip, and fry up just about anything on the stovetop without the mess of food sticking to the surface of their frying pan.
Although non stick seems like the ideal choice of cookware, there is, unfortunately, some controversy about whether non stick pans are actually safe. Some sources report that chemicals contained in non stick cookware's coating can be harmful and even lead to cancer, but others claim that non stick pans are completely safe. So, is non stick cookware safe or not? It is safe! But let's first take a closer look at non stick cookware and the chemicals that make it stick-free.
What Is Non Stick Cookware?
Non stick cookware items, such as Teflon cookware, are just like other pots and pans, but they have a unique surface. Non stick pans are treated with a coating of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a chemical made of fluorine and carbon atoms, that creates a nearly frictionless surface. This non stick coating prevents the pan's surface from reacting with and sticking to food.
Is Non Stick Cookware Safe?
Whether or not non stick cookware is safe depends on the age, quality, and condition of the non stick pan in question.
What You Should Know About PFOA
Non stick cookware's PTFE surfaces used to be made using a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). According to the American Cancer Society, this chemical is considered to be a toxin and has been correlated with cancer, thyroid disorders, kidney disease, and infertility.
PFOA was used in the manufacturing of non stick pots and pans until 2013. While most PFOAs were burnt off during the manufacturing process, some would remain intact in the final products, potentially causing a risk to humans. For this reason, Teflon or other non stick pans manufactured before 2013 should not be considered safe.
Today, non stick pans are no longer manufactured using PFOAs, and all use of PFOA is heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
What You Should Know About PTFE
PTFE (commonly called Teflon) is the chemical used to create non stick cookware’s slick surface. The risks associated with this compound are minimal. In high-quality pans, PTFE is stable and safe.
However, if heated to temperatures above 570°F (300°C), the chemical composition of a non stick surface will degrade and release toxic fumes into the air. Breathing these fumes can lead to a condition called polymer fume fever (commonly called the Teflon flu). Roughly 4 to 10 hours after exposure, a person might experience flu-like symptoms for up to 48 hours, including fever, chills, body aches, and headaches. In some cases of polymer fume fever, more serious health effects, such as permanent lung damage, have been reported.
Generally, more extreme temperatures and longer exposures to fumes produce more serious symptoms compared to lower temperatures and shorter exposure. Scratched non stick surfaces can also break down more easily. When used safely, however, newer high-quality non stick pans are considered safe.
8 Ways to Minimize Your Risk When Cooking with Non stick Pans
Taking a few simple safety precautions in the kitchen will ensure you're able to cook safely with non stick cookware.
1. Use PFOA-Free Pans
Check your labels for PFOA-free, and be sure you use non stick pans manufactured after 2013.
2. Use the Proper Cooking Utensils
To preserve your pan's PTFE surface, don't use cooking utensils made of metal or other abrasive materials. Instead, stir and flip your foods with wooden, plastic, or silicone cooking tools.
3. Don't Preheat a Non Stick Pan
Add food or liquid to your non stick pans before you add heat. An empty pan will quickly reach extreme temperatures, risking the release of polymer fumes.
4. Avoid High Heat
It's best not to use non stick pans when cooking on high heat or broiling. These cooking techniques often require temperatures that are well above the recommended maximum for a PTFE surface. If you prefer to cook with high heat, stainless steel pans, carbon steel pans, or cast iron are better options.
5. Store Properly
To preserve your pan's non stick surface, store them properly. Hang your pans instead of stacking them. If you must stack them in cupboards, place a dishcloth or pan protector between each pan.
6. Wash by Hand
Dishwashers and harsh detergents can lead to the degradation of a non stick surface. Instead of washing your pans in the dishwasher, handwash them in the sink using warm water and mild soap.
7. Ventilate Your Kitchen
You can protect yourself from accidentally inhaling polymer fumes by ventilating your kitchen while you cook. Make use of your exhaust fan or simply open the windows.
8. Replace Worn Cookware
Once a non stick pan's surface has become worn out or scratched, you are at a higher risk of exposure to polymer fumes. Replace worn-out non stick cookware with new pots and pans.
The Safest Non Stick Cookware and Tools for Your Kitchen
When shopping for non stick cookware and safe utensils for your kitchen, it's best to choose high-quality products made with zero PFOAs and high-grade PTFE non stick surface. Look for non stick cookware that, like Made In's products, are FDA certified and Prop 65 compliant. With the best quality non stick pots and pans, you can cook safely without oils and never worry about toxic fumes, saturated fats, or a tricky cleanup.