Non-Stick Cookware Safety

by updated 2013/07/17

Last fall I questioned the safety of non-stick cookware. The article did not attract too much attention back then, but look for the issue to be much more in the new in coming weeks.

Iwatched a very interesting webcast from West Virginia University which unfortunately is no longer online. The streaming broadcast was a bit jumpy and at times a bit technical. Fortunately the Environmental Working Group has summarized this presentation nicely here: http://www.ewg.org/node/26517.

These chemicals are present in all of the world ecosystems. They are present the blood of most humans, even those living in isolated areas. Concentrations increase as you go up the food chain. This suggests exposure from many sources other than cookware. Our pots and pans are just an easily recognized use and exposure risk. Potential human exposure comes from drinking water, food can coatings, food packaging, and fast food take out boxes. It is also used in less well know places like the stain repellent coatings on clothing and furniture, and the slippery coatings on dental floss.

Although it us used in non stick cookware coatings, some studies are inconclusive as to whether exposure from cookware use, when compared to other exposures, is a significant risk to humans. We get exposed from so many other sources, it is difficult to say what the biggest risks are. We can control cookware exposure, however, so I suggest you think about doing just that.

PFC’s have been shown to cause pup loss and preterm delivery in mice and rats. Mothers have been shown to pass it on to their offspring in utero. It is a suggestive or likely carcinogen which the manufacturers have pledged to eliminate from their products by 2015. California legislators are moving to ban the non-stick coatings from food packaging, saying the evidence is clear and alternatives are available, so why wait until 2015. Why not do what you can and ban them from your kitchen?

Like so many chemicals, PFC’s are thought to be more dangerous to children, infants, and pregnant women. There is also the risk of multiple chemical exposures. This is where exposure to a chemical like PFC is made more dangerous by exposure to other chemicals in our lives. In fact, some view our lives as being lived in a chemical soup, where we are daily exposed to many different chemicals. We really don’t know the cumulative effect of drinking pharmaceutical containing water from a plastic water bottle made with BPA, while eating eggs cooked in a non-stick pan, before putting on unregulated cosmetics, after sleeping in a bedroom with an off-gassing new carpet.

The list of our daily exposure to man-made chemicals is staggering. I think it is a testament to the resilience of the human body that we are as healthy as we are. Many of these exposures are not things we can easily control. Why not control the ones you can?

Related Posts:

Safe Non-Stick Cookware

Plastic Makes You Fat

Will Sig
1 Swubird

Will:

An interesting article. My youngest daughter used to hound me daily to stop using a non-stick skillet for cooking – especially on high heat. I had used the same skillet for several years and she noticed a few places in the bed of the skillet where the Teflon had worn through. She warned me that that stuff was in my system. I was always a little skeptical about the harmful affects of Teflon, but I finally got the message. I still use a non-stick skillet, but now I keep the heat low.

A few years before I retired a young man at work filed a grievance because he said that he had become ill after installing a new carpet in one of our buildings. I visited the building afterwards and I could definitely smell a chemical odor coming off of the carpet.

Very informative post.

Swubirds last blog post..UNDER SUSPICION

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2 Abhinav Sood

This is so scary to know. I had absolutely no idea about how unsafe it is to use non stick cookware like that.. In fact I am such a junkfood-junkie that I use these almost every evening to cook me snacks, noodles etc!

But mom always advises that I use these pans on low-heat and I am glad, I never overlook anything she says.

*Wondering how much of the harmful chemicals have I gathered in myself till now*

Abhinav Soods last blog post..Are you Blogging in the Right Direction?

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3 Jennifer Robin

I had no idea we were exposed to those same chemicals in so many other places too! Not sure I wanted to know that. There are plans to ban it though?

Jennifer Robins last blog post..Sky Watch Friday

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4 Will

Well, California is talking about banning the chemicals from the inside of food packaging. The industry says it will stop using the chemicals by 2015. So I think we are on our own on this one. If we want to reduce exposure a little at least, we should stop using non-stick pans.

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5 Bob

Holy crap, dental floss? is nothing sacred? It is a good thing like you said our bodies are so resilient to many of these chemicals, still why wait till 2015 to do something about it now, again thanks for the heads up, any suggestions for a dental floss substitution?lol.

Bobs last blog post..Moon, Spica and Plutoids

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6 margaret

anyone know what long term affect this has on people?
I like easy cleam up thats why i use unstick.. whats safe to use and easy toclean up ? margaret

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7 Will

Hi Margaret – There are some studies that show biological damage, but the real concern in my unscientific opinion is summarized in the last two paragraphs above. By no means are the chemicals in the non-stick coatings the only chemicals our bodies absorb on a daily basis. The cumulative affect is what is concerning. If you have to use non-stick pans to make bread, cake or muffins, that is probably not as bad as the higher heat of frying in non-stick pans. I don’t use non-stick pans period. On other things, like drinking water from a plastic bottle, I am not always 100%. In general, I subscribe to the idea that you make as good an effort as you can and don’t beat yourself up if you are not perfect. But on the question of using non-stick pans on my stove to cook my food, I am perfect. I don’t ever use them.

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8 Paula from Only Cookware

Great article. I must admit that I like non-stick cookware and do use it. It’s kind of disturbing that so many of the day-to-day things we use are full of chemicals but as you say, we are a resilient species and it is amazing what our bodies can put up with.

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9 Raj Krishnaswamy

I have an opposing point of view. If California had its way, we all would go back to the stone ages except there would be environmental lawyers to deal with in our caves. These guys have hurt every single industry in America and now they want to get into our kitchens. Nothing harms the human body more than stress does. And how do they plan to attack that. With another ban? The teflon coating industry will not die, it will simply move overseas and you will still see them sold in stores. The environmental lobby is under the grips of the outsourcing lobby and that is what drives these legislations and media panic about all these chemicals. I could go on about chemicals and their effects. However, I do plan to use teflon coated pans in the future as in the present regardless of what panic I am being fed. Just like the dangers of using a microwave oven or cell phones causing cancer. More people die of hunger in this world and more children die of malnutrition. For once let us stop worrying about the petty things in life ( such as teflon and backlinks ) and contribute to the greater cause of humanity. Thank you, Sir.

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10 Will

Opposing views are great. The main point is that everyone should be able to have their own informed views and for that information is needed.

For you, chemicals in food, contaminated water, off-gassing plastic water bottles, and Teflon cookware may be “petty” concerns. For many of us they are not.

By the way, the link to your name had to be removed. Links to sites with only one post, but dozens of ads are penalized by the search engines.

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11 Will

Amazing, Anthony. As you can tell from this article, I am strongly opposed to using non-stick cookware. It is eye-opening though to see the long list of nasty chemicals released form the coatings at 500 degrees F, a temp easily reached with stove top cooking. Scary!

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12 Silicone Bakeware

This is a very interesting topic. I know that there are some that would disagree with this post, but I have always wondered about the safety of these particular sets.

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13 Yenkhim

What is your recommendation of a good frying pan. If use stainless steel have to put a lot of oil, so it is not healthy also. How???? and please give guideline of purchasing a healthy rice cooker as well. Thanks

P.S regarding flossing teeth, I think I better use my long hair to floss, afterall is is naturally non stick….hahaha

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14 Will

It is a tough switch to make as we have all been spoiled by Teflon pans. I do use stainless steel and the key is to use lower heat than you are used to. The lower heat itself makes for healthier food. Normally I use olive oil. If I am making something that olive oil does not go with, I use butter. I use very little. The thing to be sure of is the lower heat. I even cook eggs in stainless steel frying pans with no trouble.

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15 CERAMIC all the way !!

Hi there,

I just bought a 100% CERAMIC coated non-stick pan made by Starfrit. It is PTFE & PFOA free. It seems to be similar in feel to the ceramic coating on my flat-iron hair straightener…!
From what I understand, CERAMIC is natural and stable when heated, and if it is, then it should have been used from the beginning!!

These old school non-stick pans should have NEVER been made in the first place!!
However, understanding that Teflon is produced by the old (illuminati) ‘DuPont’ family, I’m not surprised AT ALL how toxic their stuff is!

DUPONT should be charged with environmental treason !!!

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16 Will

I don’t really know much about the ceramic non-stick pans as I use exclusively stainless.I’ll look into ceramic cookware. You are right in your last comments. In the smae vein, the webcast I linked to in the post above was real eye-opening. Makes you wonder how far we have really come since the time of Karen Silkwood.

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17 Rachael Ray Non Stick

Can anyone tell me if the non-stick today is safe? They “say” the Green (HSN) ans are safe but I read too many reviews as to how they still stick.

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18 Will

It is hard to tell from the description exactly what the interior of these pans are made of. It is a bit vague, (maybe purposely?). Anyway if they are a non-stick coating, then I would not use them. For years I have used only regular stainless steel pots and pans. Recently I bought three ceramic pans and love them so far. They are even more non-stick than Teflon. You can read the details, see links, and get my more in-depth review here.

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19 Shangri

as an aspiring cook/chef, this article is so relevant. I’m glad I read it. Thanks for all the well-researched information.

Shangrila

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20 shel

ALL “non-stick” crap is POISONOUS, cancer causing.
Ceramic is just another name. Anthony Samsel a retired chemist just said, NOT SAFE. period.
Frying by itself is unhealthy. Why would you fry ??? because it’s tasty ? Remember your health.
Nothing changes overnight. It’s cumulative , takes years to develop a decease.
Do not ignore it.
Dupont mafia was fined by many many millions of dollars by EPA, but what is for them these millions ? They have billions of millions, they don’t care about anybody. They are like all other big chemical corp. criminals, destroying the planet, the nature, the health around the world.

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21 SteveD

Keep the faith, Will.
I agree, stainless steel is the ideal cookware for avoiding risks associated with synthetic cooking surfaces, but the story of healthy cooking, cookware & food goes far beyond the non-stick surface. You noticed yourself cooking at lower temperatures with stainless steel. Waterless Utensils available today have so many unique advantages and benefits, low heat waterless cooking is one, but primary is the ability of stainless steel to train the cook, to teach the cook how to cook foods the way they were meant to be cooked, the way mother nature intended her vegetables and meats to be served, fully appreciated, fully valued, fully themselves.
Of stainless steel cookware, says Harold McGee in ‘On Food and Cooking: the Science & Lore of the Kitchen’ “…the closest thing we have to the ideal chemically inert but thermally responsive pan.” (Scribner 2004 edition, pg 791).
There is no question our environment is toxic–exploding cancer rates over the last 50 years are proof enough. On the other hand, the body can cleanse itself if provided the necessary minerals, vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants found ONLY in a wide and well-nurtured variety of organically grown and free-range foods. If folks want to fry, they will soon enough. We are, after all, only as healthy as the health of that which we eat.

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22 Catherine

Is there further studies about it or everything is just speculations?

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23 Will

Catherine – I choose not to use it after reading lots of material about the subject. That is just my decision. You need to make yours. I don’t base mine on any particular expertise, just what I do after educating myself as much as possible on this and other subjects like organic food, local food, or GM food. Some people with expertise feel that there is no real danger. Others like the author of this post feel there is. I have found easy to buy and use alternatives, so I use those. For at least 30 years I did cook with plastic coated cookware. So far I am still healthy so that tells me that any adverse effects are not imminent. The plastic coated cookware industry is not going away. Most people will still use the products because they are inexpensive and work well to keep food from sticking. I choose not to use it, but I am certainly in the minority. Issues like this are never black and white, you need to decide for yourself.

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24 Will

Thanks for that great comment, Steve! And thanks for your most recent post about Black Rice. Unfortunately I am not an emperor and I had never heard of it but will surely try some now. Your post on long grain vs short grain rice was interesting too. I like organic, long grain rice for most of my cooking, but as I said in a comment on your post, it does not seem to be as good after the first cooking as short grain.

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25 Steve Denning

I wasn’t sure if Catherine was referring to the science of waterless cooking or the ‘about it’ was referring to previous posts (‘poisonous’ Teflon for example). Either way, evidence for both is abundant and Googling a query offers a wealth of unbiased data and pools of opinion–both clean and muddy.
Dissenting opinions and science is a given anymore. Should we be skeptical? Of course. Should this circumstance stop us from seeking truths?
Only if doubt rules thought. I applaud Catherine’s curiosity. Keep asking. The more we learn, the more precise is our question, the more confident our trust.
Numerous studies confirm toxic PFOA fumes are emitted from Teflon at 485+ degree F (the temperature at which cooks commonly fry bacon or sear meats). Dupont’s own studies bear this out (FDA approval in 1960’s notwithstanding). Evidence that PFOA fumes kill birds in family homes is without dissent nor are there reservations about respiratory similarities between birds & humans. Evidence of PFOA risk is demonstrable and proven. Still, Will lives immanently on.
If PFOA were the only toxin we invite into our homes, we could rest easy. It’s no secret we’re bombarded by toxins everyday; and yet the body human can flush these toxins from vital organs, from marrows, from fat cells our liver has dutifully encapsulated toxins within. Natural cleansing of toxins has been practiced with ease and effectiveness for centuries using the very methods consistent with waterless cooking–e.g., whole food consumption using methods that retain and preserve nature’s honest efforts.
Our body nature is as complex as the earthly nature we have adapted to over eons. Why we think we can modify nature (especially when it comes to food) simply defies common sense.
Real food provides all the prevention and mediation we need. To be skeptical of the natural nutrient values of fresh, organic & free range foods simply acknowledges how far one’s doubt has cluttered one’s thinking.

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26 Mark

I just heard my wife this morning saying that she should throw out one of our non-stick pans. She has been saying it for weeks, and I think I’m going to do it for her after reading this.
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27 Steve Denning

Do it Mark!
I like to remind folks who are replacing their Teflon (with more health-friendly, earth-friendly cookware) to consider what to do with those worn-out Teflon wonders. I have yet to find a good way to rid ourselves of Teflon’s toxic legacy, but some cities have Teflon recycling capabilities (I believe there are 22 cities to date). Google ‘Teflon recycling’ to see if a center is near you.
Frankly, from what I read it’s probably best to leave Teflon in its current form as ‘recycling’ it into bags & such isn’t all the earth-friendly. Apparently PFOA emitted during this high-heat recycling process isn’t captured or contained, so highly toxic PFOA gas is released into the air we breathe. Teflon never deteriorates in solid or gaseous state.

One novel approach is to sand-blast the Teflon from the pan, which may be the better of two bads. But it was then suggested the pans be re-used which is not good because the reason Teflon is there in the first place is to compensate for cheap, single-ply steel used in fabrication. Re-using these utensils would be use-less, the pans unmanageable to cook with. Calphalon will resurface their Teflons for you at a price. I don’t believe that’s helpful–adding more Teflon to the environment seems the wrong direction–certainly not a solution.

Dupont has quietly settled major law suits (in the billions of dollars) over Teflon. A huge settlement concerned birth defects and youth cancers in a neighborhood which just happened to be within a 20 mile radius of Dupont’s primary Teflon manufacturing plant. Google ‘Teflon Law Suits’ for more detail.

Of sober note, we have ourselves to fault. Markets tells us if we never buy the stuff, it goes quietly away.

On the other hand, the only gas emitted during the smelting of stainless steel cookware is carbon dioxide, the very gas we ourselves exhale. Now, if we could only ween our cars from fossil fuel and our power plants from coal, our greenery could easily mitigate CO2. I’m hopeful; I have kids who have to live on this planet too.
Steve Denning recently posted..Can We Be Healthy and SweetMy Profile

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28 John Simmons

Strange that nobody questions the safety of these “ceramic” coatings.
They are not 100% inorganic and countain chemical additives to improve non-stick performance… and within weeks they stick and need more butter or oil than a real non-stick pan . Really healthy.

I continue to use real non-stick pans as they are tested and approved by the FDA and already used for over 40 year.

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29 Steve Denning

There was (1990) and still are safety hazards with ceramic cookware.
New York Times: (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE3D91531F931A25751C1A966958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1)

“…CERAMIC. Because of the possibility of lead poisoning, the F.D.A. advises against the use of cookware from Mexico, China, India and Hong Kong. It is also possible to test (see below) for the presence of lead in a dish before cooking. Avoid storing or cooking acidic foods like tomatoes and tomato sauces, orange juice and vinegar in ceramic ware. And do not wash ceramic ware in the dishwasher.

A kit to test for lead levels in ceramic ware was developed by Donald and Francis Wallace of Seattle after they both developed lead poisoning while living in Italy and using Italian ceramic ware. Mrs. Wallace was hospitalized and near death before lead poisoning was diagnosed.

They offer a simple kit that tests for lead; it is similar to those used by Food and Drug Administration inspectors to test lead levels in ceramic ware at ports of entry and manufacturing facilities….”

(is there an irony here? If FDA is checking port of entry, why a home kit?)

“…The kit is available from Frandon Enterprises Inc., P.O. Box 300321, 511 North 48th Street, Seattle, Wash., 98103, for $29.95 plus $3.50 shipping and handling, or call 800-359-9000. One kit can be used for more than 100 tests.”

This same NY Times article notes there is little evidence that Teflon ingestion is hazardous. I believe the concern is PFOA fumes (noted in an earlier post) and emission hazards during recycling.

FDA approval of Teflon isn’t a declaration of safe use. Didn’t the FDA initially approve DDT? Though banned for some 40 years now, the chemical still shows up in blood samples taken from newborns today. A chemically ‘safe’ environment may be a place in our past, but to blissfully inhale, ingest & absorb through the skin today’s toxic cocktail ought to give one pause.

To John’s point about real non-stick, it has been my experience that sticking is caused by excessive heat. Single-ply steel pans require some kind of coating to withstand the heat; otherwise they’re unmanageable to cook with. Food-friendly, health-friendly, low-heat stove-top waterless cooking seems to be a lost art, in no small measure because of the inferior constitution of enameled, synthetic/ceramic coated cookware.
Steve Denning recently posted..Proper Care for CookwareMy Profile

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30 Terri

Will,
I do not understand how the pans can contaminate food. What particles get into the food?
Please respond.
TERRI

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31 Steve Denning

Terri,
You ask a basic question that begs an easy response. “What particles get into the food” from cookware has a long history of good science, interpretive propaganda from self-serving business interests, and a wealth of learned and fool-hearty opinion. My guess is Will, or certainly I, are not the authority. But truth exists, even on-line where a wealth of information is available at the push of a button. Search the very words you used to query Will: “contaminates from cooking surfaces” and the story begins–start with aluminum, or copper, or cast iron & venture into the synthetics (Teflon).
You’ll find lots of interesting contradictions–for example, “…use cast iron skillets to provide additional iron in your diet.” This notion (being hyped today by various cast iron on-line vendors to solicit health-minded consumers) is an untruth. The iron from cast iron skillets isn’t absorbed as a mineral nutrient–the body can’t use this kind of iron molecule a skillet releases when hot, nor can the body break it down into other useful constituents.
Where does the contaminate of hot iron from cast iron skillets go? The liver filters it from the blood stream, encases it with a fat cell or two and sends the package to some ‘parking lot’ in your bone, or organ or brain 0r some other handy spot (belly fat is good).

In a broad brush, the body is a miraculously complex chemical organism with a highly balanced ecosystem fashioned (tested & proven) over eons of evolution. Only in the last hundred years or so has the body been exposed to a sudden and unrelenting chemical intrusion–80,000+ man-chemicals exist; 6,000 of which are in routine use. Less than 3000 have been tested for toxicity and of these, less than 300 have passed safety thresholds (you know, chemicals like DDT that passed the test before deaths required the FDA re-think it’s position…)
Was it Dupont who said: “Better Living Through Chemicals.” …?

For the record (as you will find), Stainless Steel remains the safest cooking surface–a pure non-stick, non-toxic, chemically inert yet highly responsive metal unmatched by any other cooking surface. Well, at least that’s where I ended up. Wishing you the best on your search. What you learn along the way may indeed save your life and those lives under your care.

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32 Will

Thanks for all that Steve! Interesting about the iron. Adults today actually need to be careful they don’t get too much iron. So I am not sure why a company would try to market their cookware based on that claim! Regardless, as you say, it is patently absurd for them to claim that.

I agree with you about stainless steel. I have several pots and pans that are just that. For those cooking occasions where stainless can be difficult, I use the Safe Pan ceramic cookware I wrote about on this post. I am not 100% convinced it is as clean as stainless, but I feel confident it is much better than cooking on any of the various plastic coated pans!

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33 John

It appears that aluminum is not well absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract which means that even when a person is exposed to aluminum through cookware and through other sources, a significant amount may not be absorbed into the bloodstream to reach the brain. Even if you chose to cook your food in uncoated aluminum pans, less than four milligrams of aluminum would be taken in on average which is less than the aluminum content of a single antacid tablet. It’s been determined that an intake of 7 mg of aluminum per kilogram of body weight per day is safe which would correspond to around 60 milligrams a day for the average adult male.

Read more: http://healthmad.com/home-health/are-aluminum-pans-poisoning-your-food/#ixzz1K4DurTm0

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34 Mark

I find it hard to know what to believe in this day and age, man made chemicals are everywhere. Not only that, but apparently microwaves are hazardous and as a guy I’m not supposed to carry a mobile phone in my pocket.

One minute too much red meat is bad for you then it’s good for you again.

I haven’t had a problem with my non-stick cookware yet, I think that buying high quality stuff goes a long way to hassle free, safe cooking.

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