Boot camp and beyond

Risk assessment
18 November 2006 (Saturday), 11:27 pm
Filed under: Food, Health, NaBloPoMo

The whole boil water advisory thing has got me thinking about risk. In the last year or so I’ve read things in the New York Times and Ideal Bite (which, if you’ve never heard of it, is an excellent newsletter and website about small, non-hippy changes you can make in the interests of sustainability and the environment) about the dangers of non-stick/Teflon pans. Apparently if overheated, the non-stick coating releases toxic gasses.

I like our stainless steel pots and pans. Cast iron cookware is great too. But I’ve been trying to cook with less oil and non-stick pans make that easier. Also, I have yet to get a cast iron pan seasoned enough that I’m able to cook eggs in it and not spend hours scraping the eggy residue off afterwards.

So I turned to the internet for answers to the question “are all non-stick pans dangerous?” So far, the internet hasn’t achieved consensus:

A) On top of the fact that the risk of teflon toxicosis means people with pet birds aren’t supposed to use non-stick pans, this report from the Environmental Working Group says that it takes less than 5 minutes of pre-heating for a non-stick pan to reach temperatures where teflon releases 6 toxic gasses.

B) wiseGEEK’s answer to”Is Teflon dangerous?” mentions the same report and seems to conclude that it can be, if used improperly.

C) This blog post from someone who works for a Teflon manufacturer (which he discloses upfront) questions pans heating that quickly to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and also notes “an FDA study on the safety of Teflon cookware found that, at cooking temperatures, the gasses from oils and fats being cooked are more dangerous than those from the Teflon.” That sounds plausible to me. But if you’re cooking at high heat with oil in a non-stick pan, then if the first report is correct that the pan gets up to the dangerous temperatures, you’re getting the Teflon-generated toxins on top of the oils and fat-generated toxins.

D) This UK site on how to care for your non-stick cookware also answers the question “Is there a health hazard in using non-stick cookware?” After a paragraph on the inertness of the coating chemicals, they say “non-stick coating applied to pans does eventually start to degrade at very high temperatures – much higher than those reached in normal kitchen use – and at this stage fumes can be given off. Even these are not clearly dangerous to human health, but can be dangerous to pets (especially birds) which have more sensitive respiratory systems than humans.”

E) Psychology Today concludes “Nonstick pans appear safe if used properly, but you probably don’t want to live near a Teflon factory.” and this story from Columbia News Service is similarly equivocal.

So basically, maybe. I’ll probably continue to cook eggs in the non-stick pans, and everything else in the other ones.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

This is interesting. I have become very reliant on my teflon pans, though I throw them out once the teflon starts to chip. I don’t know how to cook without them! I guess I will just keep temperatures reasonably low. :)

Comment by Mandy

That seems like a fair call. When my current teflon frying pans start to chip I’m going to see if there’s some non-toxic alternative out there. I’ve also started wondering about the toxicity of silicone bakeware, because I like to borrow trouble.

Comment by Christina

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