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The debate about whether or not non-stick pans are safe to use has been on-going for two decades now. In fact, while some scientists (and of course, the companies that make the cookware) will tell you that they’re perfectly safe to use and pose no danger to your health, others have sounded warnings.
These experts say that while going non-stick might be okay for a while, how you cook, the way you clean the pan, and just how long you use them could make all the difference in your health.
The coating breakdown issue
That’s because the same coating that makes these pans easier to cook in can also break down easily. And when that happens, the potential level of food contamination by dangerous chemicals goes way up.
You see, non-stick cookware is coated with a clear plastic known as polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE. PTFE gives the pots and pans a waxy surface that helps keep food from baking on so they’re easier to clean.
However, when that PTFE starts to disintegrate, toxic gases are released. These gases are so bad that if you get enough of them, they can cause polymer fume fever, leaving you with fever, shortness of breath, and even weakness.
According to scientists, the most dangerous product of PTFE breakdown is another acronym (chemists are big on these) called PFOA. It’s a chemical with a proven link to everything from obesity and diabetes to cancer and thyroid disease.
And even if you don’t get a big dose of it from your non-stick pans all at once, long-term exposure could lead to long-term issues.
The care and use of non-stick pans
Because of this, researchers have come up with a number of recommendations for anyone who has a non-stick or Teflon coated pot or pan (or two) in their kitchen.
First, don’t use high heat.
While these pans were made to cook your food, high heat could damage the coating and potentially lead to a release of PFOA.
This means that the temperature limit for your non-stick cookware is low-medium heat.
Next, make sure you don’t use utensils that can scratch your cookware. Obviously, this breaks the surface of the PTFE plastic coating and could allow chemicals to leech out.
And finally, if you regularly use your pan at temps beyond the recommendations, be sure to replace them regularly.
That’s because a 2001 study reported in Nature found that a pan that’s used to sear steak will only last 2.3 years before it needs to be replaced — think of it as your cookware’s “best by” date to keep you safe.
The researchers also say that if you want to eliminate the chemical worries of non-stick plans completely, there are some much safer options available, including:
- Anodized aluminum cookware (which resists corrosion and scratches)
- Ceramic coated pots and pans which are safe and non-stick
- Cast-iron skillets that help to enrich your food with iron to build your blood
You can find other safe recommendations identified by organicauthority.com.
Just remember, if you don’t want to give up your non-stick pans, 2.3 years is the limit before you need a new set, and always be sure to use care when cooking so as not to scratch the surface and release harmful chemicals. Or ditch the non-stick altogether and choose one of the safer, chemical-free options above. Your body’s largest detoxifying organ, your liver, will thank you.
Are non-stick pans safe? — LiveScience