By Contributing Writer Hilary Kimes Bernstein
When my husband and I got married, we didn’t register for pots and pans. Since we each lived on our own for years, we already had most necessary items. As we registered for gifts, we asked for things we really wanted or needed. Because we were content with our mismatched nonstick cookware, a nice collection of pots and pans weren’t even on our newlywed radar.
We bought a couple new nonstick pans with wedding money, and kept cooking with them for years. Then we noticed all our pots and pans were starting to flake, and I heard that nonstick pans might be harmful. We decided to upgrade to stainless steel, and have never once looked back.
Did I overreact with our decision to switch to stainless?
DuPont, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, European Food Safety Authority, and French Food Safety Agency all agree that nonstick cookware is safe for cooking at normal temperatures. (Heating nonstick cookware above 500 degrees harms the pots and pans, including the loss of nonstick ability and a discolored surface. Heating the cookware above 600 degrees deteriorates the nonstick coating.)
Yet according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Teflon should be eliminated from new products by 2015.
Why should Teflon be eliminated?
Teflon is made with the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical that builds up as a body burden in people. Scientific studies show that PFOA increases risks for developmental effects, breast cancer, testicular cancer, heart attacks, and stroke. The chemical is commonly found in blood and breast milk samples.
There’s also a condition called the “Teflon-flu,” once exposed by ABC’s “20/20.” If a nonstick pan overheats, people inhaling the vapors may develop flu-like symptoms, including backaches, chills, headaches, and a temperature between 100 and 104 degrees.
Birds do not fare as well as humans, though. Teflon fumes are toxic to birds, both when Teflon gets overheated and when nonstick cookware is used for the first time.
What are some safe alternatives?
Fortunately there are plenty of cookware that won’t kill your birds, give you the “flu,” or pollute your blood or breast milk:
- Cast iron – While it’s heavy and needs more maintenance than many pots and pans, cast iron cookware can benefit your health. Every time you cook with it, small traces of iron seep into your food, and iron is a nutrient everyone needs. Other benefits include durability, heat retention, even heat distribution, and affordability. Maintenance isn’t so convenient, though. Before using cast iron, it needs to be seasoned. And cast iron cookware shouldn’t be washed with soap unless you re-season it.
- Ceramic – Because of its heat distribution, ceramic cookware is similar to cast iron. One huge benefit is that it doesn’t need seasoned. The enamel makes the cookware fairly non-stick, and it’s also safe for the dishwasher.
- Stainless steel – Stainless steel cookware may not be the safest option because it contains nickel, chromium, carbon, molybdenum, and other metals. There’s a chance these metals can leach into your food if the stainless steel cookware is pitted. As long as your cookware isn’t pitted, though, metals shouldn’t leach into your food.
A bit of encouragement
Pots and pans aren’t cheap. It’s frustrating to find out that nonstick cookware isn’t the safest product on the market – especially if your pots and pans are fairly new.
The good news is that you don’t have to buy a new cookware collection to make a difference. Upgrade to safer products one pot and pan at a time whenever you have a little extra cash.
What kind of cookware do you use? What do you prefer? Have you made the switch from Teflon yet?
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