Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Danger of Non-Stick Pans

Photo by BobPetUK

Step into the cookware section of your local store and your likely to see row after row of non stick pots and pans. The vast majority of cookware today is coated with a non stick surface. It's popularity is no surprise. It makes cooking easy and clean up a snap but it has also been shown to release toxic chemicals when overheated.

Gases released from the non stick surface are a leading cause of death in pet birds and have been shown to cause "Teflon flu" in humans. Symptoms include chills, headache, fever and nausea. Most people will mistake these symptoms for the common flu.

Non stick pans are metal pans that have been coated with polytetraflurethylene (PTFE) the most common brand is Teflon, a DuPont trademark. Gases that are released by the non stick surface are complex in nature and vary in composition with temperature.

One of the most studied chemicals released is perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA). The EPA has declared PFOA a likely human carcinogen. It has been shown to cause cancer, birth defects and impaired brain development in lab animals. It is released in Teflon pans at 680 degrees F (360 degrees C) which is easily reached in just 3-5 minutes if a pan is left preheating on the stove. DuPont acknowledges this but says it is incorrect use of the cookware.

In a decade long study, conducted by a UCLA based team of scientists, of almost 100,000 children and and their mothers found that women with higher levels of PFOA in their blood experienced more difficulty conceiving and had twice the risk of infertility compared to women with lower PFOA levels. 

DuPont insists that Teflon is safe with proper use but has also announced plans to phase out the chemical by 2015.

If you are stuck using non stick pans it is important not to overcook or burn the food. Don't preheat the pan and use only low to medium heat.

The safest option is to replace your non stick as soon as possible. Good replacements are stainless steel, cast iron and glass.

Sources Include:
Environmental Working Group
The Daily Green
ABC News
Maternal levels of perfluorinated chemicals and subfecundity

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Finding Time To Cook Real Food

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  1. Hi Kara - I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there's so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I'm not surprised that you are concerned. I'm a representative of DuPont though, and hope you'll let me share some information with you and your readers, so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    In regards to PFOA and cancer - The weight of evidence gathered from a number of significant health studies continues to indicate to us that there is no health risk to the general public from exposure to PFOA. Additionally, no authoritative body has designated PFOA as a human carcinogen. The U.S. EPA stated that it is premature to conclude that PFOA causes cancer. For more information, please visit and can provide you with additional information.

  2. Thank you for your comment sara.

    I would be happy to leave your comment with the links up so that my readers have the information to decide for themselves however I hope you understand that I am still very concerned about this product.

    The fact that no authoritative body has found PFOA to be dangerous does not mean much to me since authoritative bodies are usually the last to decide something is dangerous and are usually controlled by the companies who are profiting. *ahem* aspartame

    Regarding the first link you provided to the EPA, correct me if I am reading this wrong but it seems to state that they have not come to any conclution regarding it's safty but it also said "the PFOA cancer data are consistent with the EPA Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment descriptor "likely to be carcinogenic to humans."

  3. If you've got burners that can reach the temperature required to cause Teflon problems, then you need to replace it. Most of us mortals playing at home do not, so it isn't the crisis some people make it out to be.

    Restaurant-quality stoves that run gas burners are the biggest fear here. If you have a residential stovetop with electric burners (or even gas ones), you won't even reach 500 degrees--so this really isn't an issue for anybody but restaurants and those playing restaurant at home.

    1. Looking at a chart that shows relationship between color vs temperature, I see faint red represents a temperature well over 500 degrees. I would say If your electric burner shows some degree of red glow, it's probably closer to 800 degrees F. I think a typical electric burner on high could easily reach one thousand degrees.

  4. We gave up on teflon pans, as our home gas stove was too hot for them. They all blistered and deteriorated despite being careful.
    I'll never use them again.
    They also contain fluoride, recently shown to cause memory problems after long term exposure.

    Cast iron or enamel plated only for me

  5. Oh I just have to comment on the Dupont Teflon Response from Sara. Although what she says is true as far as she goes, when the EPA says it is premature, that simply means that they haven't gathered sufficient information to support Sara's view. This can be due to multiple things, 1) not enough time, 2) not enough money to support research, 3) insufficient data from other studies to support or refute Sara's information. When I hear this from EPA, that just tells me that there is enough furor to use caution. EPA does not always act in ways that tell me they are my friend. Err on the side of caution here. Besides, iron skillets will give you much needed iron from a natural source.

  6. Im confused, is this the same DuPont that, along with Monsanto is responsible for the mnanufacture of GMO crops? Just curious. :/

  7. I find ceramic coated non-stick pans work really well. I got mine at bedbathandbeyond for a very reasonable price and we use them every day. Some people don't like them because they say the ceramic coating wears off too quickly, but that hasn't been my experience at all- we never, ever put them in the dish washer and I only wash and dry them with a very soft cloth. You also have to be careful not to stack them or put other pans inside them for storage. I got a cheap little pan rack that goes in the cupboard and keeps the ceramic surface from getting scratched. I've had them for over a year and they're still like new.

    I do have good stainless copper-bottom pans, but I am not good at using them- everything always gets stuck! Maybe I'm not using enough fat :)

    I like your site :) We just started doing Paleo and I was really shocked at how much grass-fed meat is. There aren't any slaughterhouses near me and the co-op prices for buying in bulk really aren't cheaper than our local discount health-food store. The farmer's market we have in town on Saturdays was even more expensive than the store! I did buy some grass-fed, but I don't think I'll be able to do it all the time. Like another poster said, THANKS for saying it's ok lol.

  8. There are literally dozens of options to buy from when it comes to a kitchen tools or kitchenware. Innumerable manufacturers and brands are available in the market as well, and this makes it daunting to know what to look for.


  9. Awesome post you have here. A very helpful one. Thanks for sharing! I'd like to share LPG cylinder I'm using. I'm sure this will help you in the kitchen.