Safe Cookware – Is Nonstick Cookware Safe?
If you have been following are blog, you have learned that modern, processed and prepackaged foods contain very little nutrition and can be full of hormones and nasty chemicals. Not only are processed and prepackaged foods not that healthy, but producing them typically causes great damage to the environment in the forms of: dangerous chemicals used as herbicides and pesticides, hormones used in meat production, GMO’s used in the growing of corn, wheat and other crops, and extreme use of energy (read: coal and oil) to produce and transport food across the globe.
Hopefully, you have switched over to eating natural and organic foods when you can. If you have, you are likely eating out a lot less and cooking at home more, which is great. However, how you cook the food you eat is just as important as the actual food itself. You can buy 100% natural and organic food or even grow your own food in your backyard, but if you cook it in the wrong pan, you can still introduce dangerous chemicals into your body.
Today, the most ubiquitous type of cookware available is non-stick. It is heralded as a quick and easy way to cook food and clean up afterwards. But, is nonstick cookware safe?
Non-stick cookware has an interesting origin. The first main ingredient in nonstick cookware was Teflon, which was discovered by a scientist as Dupont in 1938. Like most discoveries at that time, it was being researched for military purposes. However, once World War II ended, Dupont scientists started looking at it for commercial applications. They found that it was very slippery and when they applied it to a solid surface, almost nothing would stick to it. A few years later, the nonstick pan was invented and started undergoing testing. It was officially released to the public in 1960.
Back in the 1950′s and 1960′s, cooking required a lot of oil (typically oil containing saturated fats) to ensure that food did not get burned and that pans were not ruined. Because you had to use a lot of oil, post-cooking clean up could be messy and the excess fat in the oil could lead to heart problems, especially with a sedentary lifestyle. So, when nonstick cookware was introduced, people flocked to it en mass. The nonstick coating enabled you to use less oil when cooking, which made clean-up easier and provided health benefits.
Ever since its introduction, non-stick cookware has been the reigning champion in terms of cookware material. Just walk into a home goods store near you and visit their cookware department. You will quickly see that non-stick makes up 70% or more of the cookware offerings. It makes sense, as non-stick cookware can make life easier and is supposed to be safe. But is it really safe?
According to experts, non-stick cookware can be safe, if it is used properly, which means staying within the recommended temperature range, not damaging the pans and replacing the cookware when needed.
The maximum recommended temperature for non-stick cookware is 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If the pans go above that temperature, the non-stick coating can break down at the molecular level and seep into your food. If the pans go over 660 degrees Fahrenheit, they can more significantly decompose and produce noxious gasses that can cause flu-like symptoms and kill household birds (see the Environmental Working Group study).
But, do the pans ever get to 500 degrees or higher? According to a study done by Good Housekeeping, non-stick pans can easily get to 500 degrees or higher. In their study, an empty pan that was preheated for 1.75 minutes went to 507 degrees. An empty pan preheated with 2 tablespoons of oil went to 514 degrees. A pan used to cook hamburgers for 8.5 minutes went to 577 degrees. Finally, a pan used to cook a steak for 10 minutes reached a maximum temperature of 656 degrees. So, it is safe to say that non-stick pans can easily reach temperatures of 500 degrees or higher.
In order to keep nonstick pans from overheating, experts recommend not preheating them for longer than a minute and not cooking with them on high. They also recommend using larger pans, as they take longer to heat up because of the larger pan area.
Damaging and Replacing
When using nonstick cookware, it is heavily recommended to use plastic utensils (this in itself is a big red flag, as plastic utensils themselves can break down under high heat), as metal ones can scratch or chip the surface and cause the nonstick surface to degrade. Pans can also be damaged by:
- Stacking them in cabinets. Experts recommend hanging them or separating them with sheets of paper if the pans are going to be stacked.
- Extreme temperature changes. If your pan is extremely hot from the stove and you dunk it directly into ice cold water, the pan can warp or the coating can become compromised.
- Cleaning with Scouring Pads. Rough cleaning pads and steel wool will scratch and damage the nonstick surface.
- Cleaning in the dishwasher. Dishwasher detergent can be too abrasive for nonstick cookware. Hand wash nonstick cookware.
- Storing food in the pans. The acid in some foods can break down the nonstick surface.
Chipped or scratched pans are much more likely to release dangerous toxins. So, if one of your pans becomes chipped or scratched, do not use it anymore. However, even if your nonstick pans are not chipped or scratched, Dupont, the company that holds the patent for Teflon and produces a lot of nonstick cookware, recommends replacing your non-stick cookware every 5 years.
The Bottom Line
In the best case, nonstick cookware will not harm you if you do not overheat it, scratch it, pit it or clean it improperly. We think it is just not enough reward for the risk involved. When it comes to your health, you really should not compromise. If there is even a small chance that something can release toxic chemicals into your food or air, we recommend that you do not use it and find better alternatives (which we will be blogging about in the future).
Do you use nonstick cookware? Will you still use it after reading this? Comment and let us know what you think.
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