Non-stick Coatings are Poisonous

April 20, 2016
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

The modern world is a wonderful place. Today, we’ve got cars that can park themselves, computers that will obey our voices, and cookware that never needs scrubbing.

Actually, let’s rethink that last one.

Non-stick cookware has been all the rage for decades now—ever since it was first invented. But there’s a big problem—it turns out, some of the most important chemicals used to make cookware non-stick are incredibly toxic—even carcinogenic.

In the areas where these chemicals are produced, nearby livestock die in droves. And most of these chemicals are never tested by any government agency before they go on our goods. It’s only after-the-fact that these compounds get a second look.

Research shows that, when cooking in a non-stick pan, especially at very high temperatures (over 500°F—think, pre-heating your empty pan over high heat for about a minute and a half), non-stick coating can emit some pretty hazardous toxins.

Tip over the 660°F point and you can contract “polymer-fume fever” marked by a temporary flu-like condition involving chills, headaches and fever.

It won’t kill you…but it CAN kill a pet bird…and it’s certainly not good for you, that’s for sure.

Simply put, the health risks of non-stick cookware aren’t worth it. You may save a little elbow grease in the cleaning, but your health is more important.

Today, I’m going to give you a number of ways to keep you and your family safe—along with some tips for using non-stick cookware, if you absolutely must.

1. Get a cast-iron frying pan

Cast-iron pans are famous for the great taste they produce. But many people figure they aren’t worth the hassle.

Not so. In addition to being perfectly safe, cast-iron clean-up doesn’t have to be a big deal.

In fact, you don’t want to use soap on your cast-iron frying pan at all. That’s because cast-iron will absorb liquid—that’s why you want to season cast-iron with a healthy oil when you first get one.

But when it’s time to clean, put away the dish soap—you don’t want that ending up in your next meal.

Instead, just rinse it with hot water. Thanks to the seasoning, most food will wash right away, as long as you don’t let it set too long.

If you have a particularly stubborn patch, put some salt on your pan and scrub using a kitchen towel. It will come right off.

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2. Convert to stainless steel.

Stainless steel is another perfectly safe material that won’t dose you with any unknown chemicals. It’s a little harder to clean than non-stick pots and pans, but again, your health is worth it.

To help reduce that clean time, apply a (very small!) amount of oil to your cookware before you begin cooking. Coconut oil is a great, healthy choice here. Many vegetable oils work well too.

Avoid canola oil—this industrial oil isn’t really great for eating. And olive oil can undergo a number of unwanted changes when exposed to high heat—it’s not your best alternative either.

3. If you go non-stick, cook at low temps.

We aren’t sure just how dangerous non-stick compounds are, long-term. But there’s one thing we do know—when exposed to high temperatures, non-stick surfaces begin to emit all sorts of nasty chemicals.

So, if you absolutely can’t let your non-stick cookware go, at least limit its use to low-temperature cooking.

4. Throw out any non-stick cookware that’s slightly damaged.

Once the coating starts to come off, there’s no going back. You’ll be eating these chemicals in all your meals.

So as soon as you see damage to a non-stick surface, trash it. That means everything from a wear pattern, to a small scratch.

To reduce the chances of that happening, only use rubber or wooden tools with non-stick cookware. Metal spatulas can gouge right into the chemical layer.

Also, only wash non-stick cookware gently. Don’t use any abrasive cleaners or sponges. And don’t trust any high-powered jet cleaning in a dishwasher either.

5. Poach, don’t fry.

If you’re in a restaurant, there’s really no way to know what’s going on in the kitchen.

But you can avoid non-stick exposure by avoiding fried foods.

Get your eggs poached, not fried. Get your vegetables steamed, not charred.

Not only will this ensure your food is cooked in a healthy way, but those methods of cooking are healthier nutritionally, as well.

In short, try to get non-stick out of your life in every way possible. We know of a number of ill effects, and there could be plenty more we don’t even know about yet. Don’t play with your health—ditch the easy cookware, or at least treat it with the utmost caution. A little extra effort cleaning today could make a huge difference to your health tomorrow.

References

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  • Journe

    I USE STAINLESS STEEL PANS, FOR EVERYTHING, FRYING, STEAMING, BOILING, SOUPS, STEWS ETC. I TAKE PAPER TOWEL TO RUB OFF
    ANY EXTRA BITS FOOD LEFT, THEN RINSE IN HOT WATER, THEN SQUIRT OF DISH SOAP AND FILL HOT WATER, LET SIT FOR BIT, OR EVEN OVERNIGHT, IF LAZY, EVERYTHING IS CLEAN. I NEVER HAD A PROBLEM WITH STAINESS, HAD SET FOR AT LEAST 10 YEARS.
    AFTER WASH, DRY, DRAIN, I THEN POUR DAB OIL (I PREFER COCONUT OIL) OIL ON PAPER TOWEL OR NAPKIN, AND RUB AROUND INSIDE PAN!! OUTSIDE DOESNT NEED IT. IF YOU JUST LET PAN AIR DRY AFTER WASHING, MAY JUST SEE LITTLE WATER SPOTS. IF BOTHERS YOU, JUST DRY ASAP AFTER WASHING, LOOK LIKE BRAND NEW. IF BOTTOM PAN GETS ANY BURN SPOTS, I USE COMET TO RUB IT OFF, RINSE HOT AND DRY. HAD STAINLESS AT LEAST 10 YEARS, STILL LOOKS BRAND NEW. HAD FEW CERAMIC, & NON STICK, THAT GOT KNICKS IN THEM FAST, AND I THRU AWAY!! SPENT $50.00 FOR A GRILL FRYING PAN TO COOK STEAKS, & BURGERS. GAVE THAT NICE APPEARANCE OF GRILL MARKS. BUT HAD THROW IT AWAY AFTER ABOUT 5 USES AS KNICKED OFF SPOTS OF THE CERAMIC, NO LONGER SAFE TO USE, LOOK UGLY. MY SON IS A CHEF AND BUYS ALL STAINLESS AT A RESTAURANT SUPPLY NEAR HIM OR BUY ONLINE.
    I BOUGHT MINE ONLINE AFTER WAITING FOR A SALE, HAD 10 YEARS NOW A SET. HAVE ADDED A SINGLE BIGGER SOUP POT AND ADDED A BIG SAUTE PAN. LOVE STAINLESS.LAST FOREVER.

  • imgrateful_1

    To Chris on Pam. Read the label on that. I use coconut spray. (like Pam)

  • imgrateful_1

    Very good question. SandiN!! I ditched all of my coated pans. I switched to ceramic stainless steel. I have an induction cook top, so I have to have stainless. I was wondering of a way to create a stainless steel outer layer to cast iron? I don’t know if its possible. But its true what “they” say about cast iron adding great flavour to whatever is cooked in it. But we are talking about being poisoned; What about the water we use to wash everything with? We have a separate faucet for our filtered distilled water. The only thing we can do is neutralize our exposure whenever we can. Be a “truth” seeker.

  • Chris

    May be……..but Pam tastes horrible.

  • joseph kosior

    They say cast iron absorbs the soap and it will leach back into the next thing you cook. Stainless steel, even though it’s hard to clean sometimes, seems to be the best bet. I wonder about using a no stick spray like Pam? That could be a better approach.

  • SandiN

    What about the ceramic coated pans? I heard you season them the same way you do a cast iron.

  • Chris

    I’m with you………I won’t use cast iron because if it’s not washed with soap and water, I would not want to eat anything cooked in it.

  • joseph kosior

    I’ve been wondering about the non-stick surfaces for a long time. If you take a perfectly washed pan that has a non-stick surface and wipe it hard with a clean paper towel, you’ll see the coloring on the paper towel. Teflon was especially bad but even the newer surfaces will create the same result. I once had a friend that came from a family of Italian cooks that always told me to use a cast iron pan and never wash it. He said you wipe it clean and never use soap. This sounded a bit strange because we’re so conditioned to use dish detergent on everything and not washing something doesn’t seem clean. At my age it may well be too late to make a difference but I do hope younger people heed the warning and get away from chemically treated cookware.

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