It can be rather annoying to cook a meal and have food get stuck to the bottom of the skillet. People who do a lot of cooking, prefer their food to slide off of the skillet with ease. No one wants to scrape food off the bottom of a pan. A few ways to combat this problem is to coat the skillet with oil or butter, or use a Teflon coated skillet. By adding oil or butter to your skillet, you’re adding extra fat and calories to the foods you’re eating. However, using Teflon coated skillets may not be much healthier. In fact, Teflon coated cookware can be a lot worse.
What Is Teflon?
Teflon is the DuPont company’s trade name for polytetrafluoroethylene. Teflon is a synthetic fluoroploymer, which has a high resistance to acids, solvents, and bases. In other words, Teflon allows the food to slide easily from the pan or skillet onto a plate. Teflon is a “heat-resistant plastic” that was approved by the United States Food And Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. Nearly 60% of all the pans and pots in America are coated with this substance. This does not include Teflon coated cookie sheets, muffin pans, cake pans, or any other non stick cookware.
Teflon Coated Skillets: Are They Dangerous?
The melting point for this plastic is around 327° Celsius (621° Fahrenheit). At this temperature, harmful toxins are released called perfluorochemicals (PCFs or PFOAs). Studies have been performed that revealed that at least six toxic gases are released at high temperatures. Gases that include two carcinogens. These fumes can lead to a condition known as polymer fume fever, which presents symptoms of influenza. Some signs of polymer fume fever include headaches, chills, nausea, and fever. Normally this condition goes away in a couple of days. People who get polymer fume fever often mistake it for the flu.
There have been several instances of pet birds being killed due the fumes from Teflon coated cookware. It has been recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that bird owners avoid using non-stick cookware and appliances due to so many reported bird deaths.
The toxins may spread faster and easier, if the Teflon coating has been scratched. It’s easy to scratch this coating during cleanup, but the coating may also scratch or chip during the cooking process. It’s easy to scratch when a metal spatula is used to flip food to the other side. The coating can wear away over time as well. The compounds of the coating can start to break down, or wear away, and can present itself as scratches. It’s best to throw any non-stick cookware away when scratches appear. Some Teflon skillets can last a long time without any scratches, but there are also those that can get scratches easily.
It’s true that it’s more convenient to cook on Teflon coated skillets. It’s easy to clean up after cooking, food doesn’t get stuck on the bottom, and you can use a lot less oil and butter. But the question remains about Teflon coated skillets: are they dangerous? In the end, it’s up to the individual person. If you have any concerns at all, then a good option would be to go with a cast iron skillet. Especially if you have any pet birds.
Cast iron cookware is less expensive, it’s easier to brown foods, and when the cast iron is properly seasoned, it can be as good as a Teflon non-stick skillet. Another plus for cast iron is that there’s a chance of iron being added into the foods you’re cooking. Better to have iron leached into your food than harmful toxins from the non-stick coating of Teflon.
Photo by Martin Cathrae