Over the past few decades, cooking has been revolutionized by the power of non-stick cookware. All of a sudden, food no longer stuck to the sides of pots and pans and the job of cleaning pots, pans and other utensils in the kitchen was drastically cut down with the introduction of the famous product called Teflon from the DuPont Company.
The product was discovered in the 1930′s, patented in the 1940′s and began making marketing debuts in the 1950′s. By the 1970′s it was sold widely across the United States. However, it’s miraculous claims and economical success was somewhat short lived as in the 70′s and 80′s researchers at DuPont already started to find out that the chemical compounds of Teflon were not as safe as one would think.
Publicly of course, we did not get to know this information until other independent companies stepped in like the EPA. By the time the new century hit, most people had at least heard that the non-stick pan products were considered hazardous to our health.
Today, many companies have taken on DuPont and their hazardous chemical called Teflon. The latest press release has come out from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) about DuPont trying to introduce a new alternative to the now known toxic Teflon.
Due largely to pressure from EWG and its supporters, DuPont, the maker of the now infamous Teflon, as well as other non-stick chemical product companies, have promised to phase out PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid, the main ingredient of Teflon) by 2015, a carcinogenic chemical found in grease-resistant coatings for food packaging.
Since DuPont is being forced into parting ways with Teflon, their comeback is of course another non-stick substance to take its place. The alternative is being called the “green” alternative to the not only health, but also environmentally toxic Teflon.
Since there’s virtually no public data on the health risks of the new, supposedly green chemicals, it looks like DuPont is continuing a decades-long pattern of consumer deception.
Olga Naidenko, PhD, an EWG senior scientist says:
Calling these replacement chemicals ‘green’ is like saying you’re safer driving a car at 150 miles an hour instead of 200. Just like the chemicals they’re replacing, these new compounds are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, they are already found in people’s blood and they cross the placenta to contaminate babies before birth.
To add to this, one can still find ample government based data and consumer fact sheets that claim perfluorochemicals (non-stick chemicals) are considered generally speaking safe and need not be avoided.
Risks of Non-stick Chemicals
We now know today that there are numerous, serious health risks associated with exposure to non-stick chemicals such as perfluorochemicals. These include:
- carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects
- teratogenic (birth defect) effects
- immune suppressing effects
- flu-like symptoms
Death has been noted in several studies where animals were exposed to fumes from overheated Teflon products.
So aside from the nasty health effects, these chemicals also have serious and detrimental effects on the environment.
Putting Information into Practical Applications
Hopefully by now, you have heard and have been well aware of the large health risks associated with using non-stick, especially Teflon based kitchenware and most of the above information is not new news for you.
So what are you to do as a consumer? You lead a busy life, you want to make home cooked meals, but you cannot afford the frustrations, headaches and nuisance of using regular pots and pans without the non-stick coating. Or can you?
See that ultimately is what it comes down to… what is more important to you? Saving some time or having a healthy family? I think the choice is obvious. Preceding generations have cooked in regular cookware for decades and there are still some people to this day who cook regularly and have never once used non-stick kitchenware.
Yes, some people will say that it is ok, as long as you do not scratch the surface and hence openly activate the chemical. But that is a gamble one has to make on their own.
In the meantime here are a few practical guidelines to reduce the risks associated with the toxic chemicals in non-stick kitchenware, while still being able to cook sanely:
Understand that even if you do not use non-stick cookware you may still be exposed to these very hazardous chemicals from many other places and things, such as fast-food wrappers.
Print a copy of the EWG’s Home Guide to perfluorochemicals (the main hazardous culprits in non-stick items) and how to be smart to avoid them.
If choosing non-stick items, avoid buying anything from DuPont or with the actual Teflon name brand on it. Many companies today offer alternatives masked as “ceramic non-stick surface” and it is difficult for the most part to find out what exact chemicals they use to make that.
If cooking with non-stick pots and pans, never use any metal utensils, only soft and/or wooden ones work best to avoid scratching the surface.
Do not cook on high settings with any non-stick kitchenware as overheating these substances increases the release of the toxic compunds.
If you find that the surface of any of your non-stick pots and pans has been compromised (i.e. scratched) get rid of and replace the item immediately. Every dose of the chemicals can put your health at serious risk.
Try to avoid these materials at all costs if you are pregnant, cooking for young kids and/or have any serious health effects which could be further aggravated by the chemicals in PFOAs.
Don’t be lazy and complain about some extra washing or more diligent cooking, after all your health is at stake!
So ultimately, be smart and stay safe when it comes to cooking delicious home cooked meals!
Sources and Resources
Canadian Cancer Society: Teflon and Non-stick cookware cancer risk
EWG’s Credibility Gap: Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging and DuPont’s Greenwashing: