Are Nonstick Coatings on Cookware a Health Risk?

Dr. Allen: Teflon® is the most common, but not the only, nonstick coating used for cookware.  Teflon is a large polymer of carbon and fluorine that is chemically inert (stable) and non-toxic.  If nonstick layers begin to crack or peel, any Teflon that is picked up in the food passes through our systems undigested.  The largest concern with Teflon comes at high temperatures (400 – 500˚F), where it will begin to decompose and release toxic gasses (there is evidence suggesting that small amounts generated at lower temperatures is harmful to domestic birds, so nonstick pans are not recommended in this situation).  When cooking with nonstick pans, keep these tips in mind:


• Do not pre-heat dry (empty) pans.  When pre-heating with oil, don’t allow the oil to overheat or smoke (this means the temperature is high enough that the Teflon may be breaking down).


• Whenever possible, use low to medium heat settings.  Avoid cooking foods that require high temperatures and longer cooking times (e.g. bacon) in nonstick pans.


• Do not subject nonstick pans to rapid changes in temperature.  This can cause the Teflon coating to peel or chip.  (Eating Teflon is not a safety issue, but it’s still not an appetizing thought.)


• NEVER use metal utensils in nonstick pans.  This will scratch the Teflon coating, causing it to peel or chip.


Dr. Bowser: Nonstick pots and pans are safe as long as you keep the temperature down (below 500º F). There is no direct evidence that the chemicals in nonstick surfaces are harmful, but it might be wise to avoid the risk. Personally, I don’t think nonstick surfaces are necessary, other than for a fry pan or occasional-use cookware that gets really “gunked over” and is difficult to clean (e.g. muffin tins).


Shelf Life Advice editor:  According to Consumer Reports,
the question of the safety of nonstick cookware  revolves around the possible health risks from a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The manufacturers of 1 Earth Pan, 5 Starfrit, and 7 GreenPan—all products that don’t contain PFOA—claim that the chemical is potentially harmful. However, Consumer Reports says it’s not clear how much PFOA actually affects consumers. The magazine’s test results showed very little PFOA in air samples collected over new pans that contained the chemical. Moreover, test results on pans that had been repeatedly heated and washed to simulate months of use revealed a decrease of PFOA in the air to “barely measurable levels.”


One common piece of advice regarding nonstick cookware:  Don’t buy very expensive brands because you’ll want to discard and replace them when they begin to flake. 




Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Dept. of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences


Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D.  Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering


Consumer Reports “Cookware sets that sizzle,” September, 2009.

If you ask me something about certin health issues present in a rehab center, I could tell you a lot about that, but I had no idea that teflon pans can prove to be so dangerous at high temperatures. Thank you for your kind advice. I will keep that in mind and hopefully I will manage to spread it around to a few of my friends.

I read a lot about juvederm, but I had no ideas that cookins pans can prove to be so dangerous for your health if you don't respect some simple rules. Your article here has opened my eyes and from now on, I will be much more careful with my cookware. Thank you and looking forward to reading more useful advice on your website.


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