Between 1999 and 2003 there were a lot of news reports about studies showing that the chemicals known as PFO’s, PFOA’s and PFC’s were being released from cookware and getting into people’s bodies. Many groups came out with warnings suggesting that non-stick cookware be replaced by regular stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans. I have known about this warning for quite some time, but I am not surprised that cookware coated with the chemical commonly known as Teflon is still the vast majority of cookware in use today. The chemical coatings are inexpensive so non-stick cookware is less costly than stainless steel. The non-stick properties of Teflon make cooking some types of food so much easier that it is unlikely that most people will ever go back to using traditional pots and pans.
One of the reasons Teflon is still in wide use in cookware is that has been difficult to determine what the real source of these chemicals in the people’s bodies is. In addition to non-stick cookware, the chemicals are found in many consumer products including shampoo, food grade paper products, carpets, lubricants, rug cleaners, garden tools, and even zippers. PFOA is released as water and air pollution during the manufacturing of carpets, clothing, and paper. These chemicals have been found in tested air, water, and food in every U.S. city where testing has been done. In addition, studies have found the chemicals are in 90 -95% of the blood of people living in the U.S.
DuPont, the main manufacturer and user of these chemicals claims that its non stick coatings are safe. Of course the company has a huge financial investment and interest in the continued use of Teflon. It is also true, however, that some experts have called for caution in sounding an alarm about the use of these chemicals in non-stick cookware. Because of the many different sources of PFO’s in the environment, these scientists say it is impossible to know exactly how the chemical gets into the blood of virtually every person in the developed world.
In addition, some studies have shown that if Teflon coated cookware is not used at high temperatures, very little of the chemical is actually released into your food. The problem I see with these studies is that they only measure the toxic fumes given off when the cookware is heated to temperatures over 500 degrees. This sounds like a high temperature, but I think the direct contact with your gas or electric burner can easily achieve these temperatures. Many frying pans also get scratched with use and particles of the chemicals get into your food.
Another reason some experts urge caution in condemning the use of non-stick cookware is that in order to use the alternatives, you must use a much higher amount of oil or butter. These fats are known to be unhealthy for you, especially when heated to high temperatures. So, short of steaming or boiling all of your food, what should you do?
In my case, I simply stopped using non-stick pans a couple of years ago and my advice would be, especially for frying, and sauteing…. Do not use Teflon pots and pans, do not use non-stick cookware of any type. I don’t fry much food, and when I do, I use a stainless steel pan, and lower temperatures. I am less worried about the little bit of extra butter or oil I use than I am about having the chemicals from non-stick pans accumulating in my body. However, even in our household, we still have a few non-stick pans because not everyone in the family is willing to give up on their convenience. I suggest that you look at your cooking habits and see if you can at least reduce the use of this cookware. Certainly any pots or pans that are used for steaming, boiling, and sauteing, can be stainless steel. When you do fry something, you can use lower temperatures and get by with a good quality stainless steel or cast iron frying pan.