Friday, October 3, 2008

Are nonstick pans safe?

In this economy, we’re all motivated to save money and eat healthier by cooking more at home. And a new pot or pan can be a nice motivator. But we feel distinctly unmotivated by non-stick cookware manufactured with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8 in industry terms), which is used to make the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating that is so magically unstickable. Problem is, the chemicals stick to us. And, as the Environmental Working Group reports, the EPA has classified PFOA as a "likely human carcinogen."

PFOA is found in all sorts of modern goods, from cookware to water-repellant fabrics. And it’s also in the bloodstreams of 95 percent of the U.S. population. The chemical has been linked to cancer and birth defects in laboratory animals according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is known to linger and accumulate in living tissues and the environment. DuPont, the second largest US chemical company and manufacturer of Teflon, went to court with the EPA in 2004 when the Agency claimed that DuPont found traces of PFOA in their workers’ bodies and in the municipal water supplies of West Virginia and Ohio as early as 1981 but never reported it. As a result, DuPont agreed to comply with the EPA’s order to phase out 95 percent of PFOA in its products by 2015.

However, the official stance of the EPA is that nonstick cookware is just fine: Wherever we’re getting PFOA in our blood from, they say it’s not from pots and pans. Tests done by Consumer Reports agree that very little PFOA is released by nonstick cookware, though they do recommend using ventilation while cooking with it, tossing out old, flaking nonstick pans, and never placing empty nonstick pots and pans over very high heat (over 500 degrees Fahrenheit).
So, wait? PFOA is bad and DuPont is phasing it out, but it’s still okay to cook with it? Sounds questionable to us, too. How about some nice, safe, environmental alternatives?

Cast Iron cookware that has been seasoned, or coated and baked with vegetable oil, creates a natural nonstick cooking surface with even heating, temperature retention, and durability. Lodge Cast Iron, a family owned and operated company in Tennessee, has been making cookware for over 100 years.

Lodge also makes enameled cast iron cookware; we find that enamel works as well as, and is certainly more durable than, a chemical nonstick surface such as Teflon or Silverstone.

We love our Le Creuset grill pan, as well as the company’s classic enamel-lined pots and pans.

Glass cookware can’t be used with direct heat, so stovetop cooking is out, but brands such as Pyrex are perfect for baking. Tempered glass bakeware inexpensive to buy, easy to manufacture, and easy to recycle if it breaks.

In addition to ceramic, a new ovenproof product is colorful plastic silicone bakeware, the non-PFOA nonstick stuff that’s filling the Teflon niche. Silicone is made primarily from harmless sand and oxygen, but silicone ware also contains carbon, aluminum and titanium, and thus, unlike glass, isn’t easily recycled at the end of its life. While, based on what we currently know, it’s safer than a PFOA nonstick surface, it’s not the greenest option available.

Our advice: if you’re dedicated to the art of cooking, splurge for glass, ceramic, uncoated stainless steel and cast iron. All guaranteed PFOA-free.

By Island Girl

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Anna (Green Talk) said...

Hi. I had a set of pyrex cooking pans for years. I only use them for passover but they work fine.

Charlette said...

I just found the best baking dishes in the world. As of yesterday, 12/07/08, Target stores now carry Green Apple glass baking dishes. They had a pie plate, an 8" X 8" square baking dish, a 9" X 13" retangular bakig dish, and a 7" X 11" oblong baking dish. The advertising paper that came with the dishes stated that they are "no stick" and you do not need to use any butter, margarine, pam or other like product. I thought, yeah, sure but went ahead and bought the 8" X 8" and the oblong baking dishes. I bought some apples and went home and immediately made homemade apple crisp in the 8" X 8". Wow, what a dish - not the apples - the dish itself. The apple crisp just slide out and absolutely nothing stuck to this dish. Easy, easy cleanup with just soap and water. So I gave it the real test and made macaroni and cheese. It slide right out after being in the hot oven. Again, easy, easy cleanup with just soap and water. I threw out all other glass baking dishes that I own. These are the ones for me - and you too. Buy one - try it - if you don't like it you can always take it back - but you won't. These have got to be the best glass baking dishes to ever hit the market. No, I don't work for Target or Green Apple. I work for a municipality in the state of Florida. I would quit my job and work for Green Apple if they wanted me. Thanks for listening. Make your life easier. Life is hard enough these days. Buy these glass baking dishes.

Jacqueline said...

Maybe silicone isn't easily recycled, but you really shouldn't plant doubts about its safety that are unverifiable. If you're worried about titanium (hip implants), aluminum (pop cans), and carbon (we are carbon!) maybe you should think a little harder about why cast iron is safe. What additives does it have? I bet carbon is one of them! It's good to think critically about what we're exposing our body to, but concluding that chemical==bad isn't very analytical.

Sylvana said...

@J Harper - what the author was saying was that the products contain these things but do not list them on the label, so you don't really know exactly what is in the product. You don't know everything that they may be adding to the silicone product is the point.

As an aside, titanium that is intended for implantation is a certain grade and undergoes a special treatment that might not be used in the additives to cookware, and some forms of titanium have been linked to lung and other cancers. there have been studies done showing a correlation between aluminum product use and alzheimers as well.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if anyone knows the dangers of ingesting a silver looking material that has been coming off on my food while baking. I am unsure as to what type of non-stick pan this is, but I made sausages in it and they came out with silver flecks stuck to them. It is apparent that the silver flecks came from the pan. I'm concerned if it is harmful to eat them anyway... My fiance ate them silver flecks and all assuming he'll be fine because the human body is tough. But I am still concerned as to what effects ingesting this silvery stuff may have. I've been trying to do some research on ingesting this, but all I can find is how it can be toxic to birds if heated too high... Not what I'm looking for. So, does anyone have any guesses, suggestions, or concerns they'd like to discuss?

Anonymous said...

see toxic cookware comparison at

Aluminum Cobalt Chrome Iron Nickel Leaching?
Aluminum Tea Kettle 6.70 * * * * Yes
Stainless Steel Tea Kettle * * * 1.27 * Yes
Speckled Metal Bakeware 35.40 2.67 .23 1.48 19.30 Yes**
Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet * * 2.08 2,817.00 * Yes
Non-Stick Anodized Aluminum 5.5 qt 7.10 * * * * Yes
Anodized Aluminum 1qt * * * * 3.28 Yes
Ceramic Non-Stick Aluminum Skillet 1.40 * * .95 * Yes
Non-Stick Glass Bakeware * * * 4.31 * Yes
Mercola Healthy Chef
10" Ceramic Skillet < .01 .056 < .05 0 < .05 No

All values are mg/L.
* Indicates value not tested for in given material.
** Speckled metal bakeware leaching values for cobalt and lithium are not available.


4% Glacial Acetic Acid is poured into the vessels and let to sit for 24hrs. Once the 24 hr leach is over, the acetic acid is analyzed via AA Spectroscopy for the individual metal content and then recorded.

Anonymous said...

and let's not forget stainless steel... we have some all-clad that we're slowly transitioning to (as the cost is greater than most), and are very happy with the performance.

James said...

I like that people are becoming more concerned with what they put in their bodies and the environment, but I caution everyone to not take it too far. Just because a chemical is hard to pronounce or sounds ominous does not mean it is bad.

It is wonderful to be critical, but you have to be smart about it. J Harper made a great point on this. For example, Sylvana mentioned that aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer's. This is incorrect and is more the product of fear getting in the way of the actual data. One study does not prove the point and correlation does not prove causation.

greenerpenny said...

Thanks for all these great comments! Yes, I should have included stainless steel, because it's the most recycled metal, and doesn't taint food. I was focussing on nonstick surfaces, but with a little oil, stainless is usually plenty slick.

Robin said...

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