Spending every morning at the kitchen sink scraping off the charred remains of breakfast gets boring after a while. Non-stick cookware may seem like an interesting alternative, but are they safe?
Usually when people ask about the safety of their non-stick cookware, they talk about Teflon, said Suzanne Fenton, a reproductive endocrinologist at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina. Also known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), this clear plastic is used to coat metal pots and pans, giving them a waxy, easy-to-clean surface – and for decades scientists have debated whether it is safe for cooking.
Experts tend to agree that Teflon itself is not a problem. The coating itself is considered non-toxic. Even if you ingest small flakes, it passes through you. But some experts are concerned about what happens when Teflon gets too hot. “When the cookware overheats, the PTFE coating starts to disintegrate,”
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Not all researchers think people need to worry about their Teflon pans breaking. Some point out that no studies have specifically analyzed the long-term effects of Teflon pans on humans. Instead, these studies focus on the health effects of Teflon chemical byproducts, such as PFOA. Much of the data on these toxins comes from environmental exposure cases, such as drinking water or factory settings, where exposure levels are much higher than they would be from non-stick cookware. “In general, non-stick pans aren’t dangerous,” said Kyle Steenland, a professor of environmental health at Emory University in Atlanta.
Steenland and other scientists also argue that people don’t cook at high enough temperatures for these chemical reactions to take place. “Now, if you burn the pots for an hour on high heat, then [Teflon] it will break “,” But this will be the least of your problems because your house will be on fire. ”
However, research suggests that pans can easily reach a temperature hot enough to disintegrate Teflon. A group of researchers in Canada published a 2001 study in the journal Nature, where the Teflon broke at 680 degrees Fahrenheit (360 degrees Celsius). For context: A Teflon-coated pan can reach 750 F (399 C) when left for eight minutes over high heat on a stove, according to a 2017 article published in Environmental Sciences and Pollution Research. And at lower temperatures, the Teflon coating still breaks down over time, according to a 1998 article published in the magazine Polymer degradation and stability. If you consistently heat the pan to 260 F (127 C; the temperature at which we cook the steak), the pan should last about 2.3 years, according to the 2001 Nature study.
Taking care of non-stick pans can help keep the kitchen safe. “It’s very important that you use the cookware over medium-low heat and don’t use utensils that will scratch it,” Fenton said.
But in some cases, it’s best to ditch the Teflon pans altogether, Fenton added, especially if you’re pregnant. breastfeeding or have young children. PFOA in particular is related to problems with children’s development. This is because this chemical is considered an endocrine disruptor, which means that it interferes with the body hormonal system. Exposure to PFOA causes an increase in estrogen in male rats and a delay in the development of mammary glands in female mice, according to a 2012 article published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In humans, the chemical is linked to obesity, diabetes, poor sperm quality, and irregular menstrual cycles, potential signs of endocrine disruption.
Fortunately, there is a wide range of other options for those averse to washing pots. Anodized pans aluminum (a product that protects against corrosion and scratches) and the ceramic is non-stick and perfectly safe, Fenton said. When cared for properly, a cast iron skillet can also serve as another non-toxic, non-stick pan, while enriching food with blood formation iron.
“Non-stick cookware comes in many forms,” Fenton said, “you can certainly cook healthy meals safely.”
Originally published on Live science.