Non-stick Coatings are Poisonous
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.
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.
- Good Housekeeping, “Nervous About Nonstick?”, Amanda Schaffer, Sep 26 2007 http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/cooking-tools/cookware-reviews/a17426/nonstick-cookware-safety-facts/
- WebMD, “Nervous About Nonstick?”, Amanda Schaffer, Nov 13 2007 http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/nervous-about-nonstick
- The New York Times, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”, Nathaniel Rich, Jan 6 2016 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/magazine/the-lawyer-who-became-duponts-worst-nightmare.html?_r=2
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: April 20, 2016