Like most college students, my roommates and I had a hodgepodge collection of kitchenware in our house. Mismatched silverware, chipped plates, random mugs – basically, whatever our parents no longer needed in their kitchens came to school with us. This included a wide selection of scratched pots and pans, some of which were coated with nonstick surfaces. I’ll never forget making scrambled eggs for a late-night snack and finding little black specks from the Teflon coating mixed in.
That didn’t seem quite right to me.
Sure enough, a bit of research revealed that the non-stick coating (usually referred to as Teflon) really isn’t very safe or healthy according to many studies. When nonstick surfaces like Teflon are heated to 450+ degrees, they release a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is linked to developmental harm and cancer.
Here are some other points to consider:
1. The fumes emitted from nonstick coated pans left over heat have killed pet birds (here’s a link to that study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1119084)
2. At 554 degrees Fahrenheit, studies show that ultra-fine particles start coming off a Teflon-coated pan. These tiny particles can embed deeply into the lungs, resulting in flu-like symptoms like headache, chills, backache, and a temperature between 100 and 104 degrees. DuPont (the maker of Teflon) acknowledges this “reversible” syndrome, but downplays it because the symptoms subside “in just a few days” according to spokeswoman Uma Chowdhry.
3. Back in 2004, the EPA found DuPont guilty of withholding blood and water pollution studies. In the early 1980s DuPont scientists at the company’s West Virginia Teflon plant uncovered startling evidence that an important Teflon ingredient had contaminated local drinking water supplies. Further, babies of plant workers had a Teflon ingredient in their blood and were born with birth defects of the eyes and nostrils. DuPont maintains that PFOA does not cause birth defects, and that there is no evidence of it harming human health.
4. Teflon is found in more places than just pots and pans. It is used in carpet (as a stain repellent), as a bullet coating (to protect the gun barrel), a roofing material and an insect repellant. It is found in clothes marketed with the brand Gore-Tex.
I chose to avoid non-stick pots and pans altogether. I’ve come up with a few tips for making life without Teflon a lot less messy:
1. Heat a non-stick pan properly before putting food into it. Putting food into a cold pan is asking for a sticky mess. This is especially true when cooking proteins like eggs, salmon or chicken. When I heat the pan and a bit of oil first, foods can easily move around the pan.
2. Wash the pan right away. I know the inclination is to let a messy pan soak, but I’ve found that (carefully) washing the pan while its still hot brings up the sticky stuff immediately. Think of it this way: when you deglaze a pan over high heat (adding liquid to bring up the yummy bits on the bottom of the pan) everything comes up. Putting a hot pan right into water and washing it brings up all the bits, too! Here’s photo proof that this trick works:
3. Invest in high quality pans. This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money, but it does mean doing a bit of research to find pots and pans that suit your lifestyle. I use a Lodge cast iron skillet, a LeCruset stock pot and a wonderful stainless steel set from All-Clad.
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