Sunday, November 2, 2008

Readers Response to Nonstick Cookware

Green Cookware: Seasoned cast iron, enameled cast iron, Thermolon/ceramic nonstick coated pans, ovenproof glassware for baking

Not Green: Teflon/Silverstone-type nonstick coatings using PFCs

Reason: Until recently, most nonstick cookware was made with PFOA, a perfluorochemical that has been linked to cancer. Although chemical companies agreed to phase out the use of PFOA by 2015, this does not affect PTFE, another perfluorochemical, which is the main component in conventional nonstick cookware. PTFE is known to break down at high temperatures and its fumes cause acute, flu-like symptoms if inhaled.

What to do?

If you’d rather not buy new:

Use what you’ve got with care. If your Teflon pans are unscratched and unscorched, there’s no reason to toss them. Continue to use and preserve them carefully with non-scratching wood, silicone or, yes, Teflon utensils. Never use them on high heat, above 500 degrees F. Never heat them when empty.
Look for indestructible cast-iron and uncoated stainless steel pots and pans at yard sales, flea markets, and secondhand stores.

If you’re ready to buy new, buy smart. Greenerpenny recommends the following:

Cuisinart Green Gourmet
Le Creuset enamel (coated cast-iron for stovetop/ oven, and glazed clay for oven only)
Lodge Cast Iron
Pyrex glassware (for baking, not stovetop)
Stainless steel (nonreactive, though not nonstick!)
Calphalon-type anodized aluminum, so long as it's not covered with nonstick Teflon-type coatings. You can see the difference, because the coating will peel & scratch.

To respond to Greenerpenny readers’ latest round of comments and questions on nonstick cookware, below, we checked with DuPont, the Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group, and Scientific American.

Reader: Anodizing aluminum pans produces a very hard surface with no toxins. Non-stick coatings are applied on top and this is where the controversy is.

Greenerpenny: This is a good point. A pan’s label may declare it’s “PFOA-free” but remain mum on whether the pan has PTFE. Remember: The phase-out of PFOA does not affect the presence of PTFE in conventional nonstick cookware. If you’re trying to discern the safety of your pots and pans, you have to ask whether they’re free of PFOA and PTFE.

Reader: I was wondering if you had any studies of the green pan made by Cuisinart? We purchased one and it works really good. But we wanted to make sure it was safe.

GreenerPenny: According to Cuisinart, their new Green Gourmet pan has a ceramic nonstick coating and contains neither PTFE nor PFOA. GreenPan’s manufacturer makes the same assurances.

Reader: How about ALL-CLAD's Excalibur? I paid a king's ransom for these pans about 10 years ago and they said they were safe! Know anything about them? I'll throw them out if you say to...

Greenerpenny: It’s flattering to be held in such high regard, but we need more information about your cookware. All-Clad makes both stainless steel and nonstick-coated pans. If yours are the stainless steel variety (shiny silver on the inside and out) you probably have nothing to worry about.

If you do have the black silky nonstick coating on the inside of your pans, that’s another story. The EPA and the companies that use PFOA in their cookware didn't agree to a PFOA phase-out until 2005, so if you bought your pans 10 years ago, they could very well have PFOA in them. Heck, cookware can technically have PFOA in it until 2015!

But you can probably still cook on your All-Clad if you take precautions, as noted above. Consumer Reports did independent studies of nonstick cookware known to have PFOA and their findings were reassuring. They recommend not putting the cookware on the stove without something in it first; while PTFE tends to start breaking down (and releasing toxic fumes) at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the presence of food or oil will prevent the pan from releasing fumes as it heats up, CR said.

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By Island Girl


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Zatzzie said...

You assert several times that some non-stick pans have PFOA in them. My understanding is that PFOA is used to manufacture PTFE, the scientific name for Teflon. The concern with PFOA is not that it is in the pans themselves (although some pans do have some residual PFOA when first purchased) but that it finds its way into the environment from the manufacturing plants. Because it does not readily breakdown, PFOA accumulates in the environment, in animals and humans, and it was this bioaccumulation that prompted manufacturers to agree to phase out the use of PFOA.

greenerpenny said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and smart analysis, which is spot on, except for the assertion that we say non-stick pans contain PFOA. We say they are made with PFOA in processes which, as you point out, release this chemical into the environment and our bodies. Nonstick pans do, according to EWG, contain perfluorochemicals that break back down into PFOA in the human body over time. See

Hendrik said...

Not Green: Teflon/Silverstone-type nonstick coatings using PFCs ...