Have you thrown away your nonstick pans because you heard they were unsafe to use? What makes them unsafe, and are all nonstick pans potentially harmful?
Many nonstick pans on the market were made in such a way that it probably would have been better that you not use them to prepare meals for your family. However, by the time that we all started to hear about it, new pans on the market were probably fine to use. Read on to decide for yourself and learn what to look for.
Some nonstick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (aka Teflon, referred to here as PTFE).* This is the material that gives it the nonstick characteristics that make cooking (and the clean up) so much easier. When PTFE gets above about 660ºF, it “begins to degrade, releasing fine particles and a variety of gaseous compounds that can cause damage to the lungs when inhaled.”* Even when using plastic or wooden utensils, you may have experienced that these pans can begin to flake off, which means that there is a possibility we could ingest PTFE if using a nonstick pan — probably not great for our health. However, if kept at lower temperatures and cared for, and then thrown out if they begin to flake, I couldn’t find any research showing potential harm from PTFE.
On the other hand, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a compound that was used to make PTFE. PFOA is widely believed to be harmful.** It has been linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.* In a study published in 2007, PFOA was found in the blood of about 98% of Americans.* However, humans are exposed to PFOA through a variety of factors, and exposure through nonstick pans may be quite limited.*
Dupont, the company that originally made most of these nonstick pans using PFOA, stopped its use in 2015,* and now most nonstick pans available for sale do not use PFOA.
At my house, we are choosing to continue using nonstick pans that do not contain PFOA. Choosing PFOA-free pans is easy these days, as most if not all say that they do not use this compound. We will not let them get too hot, will take good care of them, and will throw them away if the coating starts to flake off at all.
I am think this is unlikely to be harmful to our health, at least not more so than all the other harmful things we do and ingest into our bodies, but you may decide to stay clear of them altogether. You can also try ceramic-coated pans, or stick with stainless steel or cast iron.
It is a personal decision, but hopefully this information helps you make an informed choice to cook for you and your family.