When nonstick pans came out, they became an instant hit. Easy to clean and reducing the need for oil, they seemed like the perfect solution for every modern chef. But soon, concerns over their safety started mounting and Teflon – the most famous brand of nonstick coating – found itself on the health and safety blacklist. The manufacturers disagreed, but some of the evidence was too strong to ignore. Here we look at the dangers of nonstick pans and the healthier alternatives.
The risks begin when pans are overheated. When a nonstick pan reaches 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius), its coating starts to decompose. At 660 degrees (350 degrees Celsius) and above, the decomposing becomes significant, and toxic fumes get released which can cause polymer-fume fever. This is a condition that mimics flu, and can kill pet birds.
As the temperature increases further, so do the dangers. At 680 degrees Fahrenheit (360 degrees Celsius), Teflon starts releasing at least six different toxic gases; two of them are known carcinogens. It is not clear what the long-term effects of prolonged exposure to these gases are.
These temperatures might seem high, but you would be surprised how fast they are reached when you cook. You just need to preheat your oven with a pan left inside, and the harm is done. One cooking accident can be enough.
The next hazard comes with chipped and flaked cookware. Some of the damages might not be seen with the naked eye, but they are there and are potentially harmful as the chemicals from Teflon get released into your food. With cheaper materials, the cracks develop faster, so you are not only breathing in the fumes, but you are also ingesting chemicals that you were not meant to. Most Americans nowadays have some chemicals from Teflon in their bloodstream, and they are even found in newborns.
Chemically, Teflon is known as polytetrafluorethylene. It was originally a waste byproduct of Freon production, which is the trade name for nonflammable moderately toxic gases or liquids which are used as refrigerants and as aerosol propellants. Freon and Teflon are both produced by the same company – DuPont. Teflon is made from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been associated with tumors and developmental problems in animals.
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