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The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
Next year, my husband and I will celebrate our ten year anniversary. As that milestone approaches, I am noticing that many of my wonderful wedding presents are starting to show their age. One thing has especially caught my eye lately-my frying pans. I have heard through the years that cooking foods in scratched non stick pans is dangerous, and I thought it would be wise before I put new pans on my Christmas wish list to do a little research into what exactly is in that non stick coating. Because if we are going to spend extra money on getting good ingredients, we want to make sure we aren’t adding toxins from the pans we are cooking them in.
The two chemicals that are used to make non stick coatings are PFOA and PTFE. There is controversy surrounding the use of these chemicals, and some say that they are carcinogenic and can cause a host of diseases including diabetes. Birds, who have more sensitive respiratory systems than ours, can die from fumes released when cooking with these pans. If the pans are heated to temperatures above 500º F, it can cause temporary flu like symptoms that last for a few days (called “polymer fume fever”), which is part of the reason that DuPont, the maker of Teflon, advises consumers of their non stick pans to only use medium or low heat and to not heat up the pans empty. Now the FDA says this:
“Perfluorocarbon resin (PFOA) is a tough, nonporous and stable plastic material that gives cookware and bakeware a surface to which foods will not stick and that cleans easily and quickly. FDA has approved the use of this material as safe for food-contact surfaces. The Agency has determined that neither the particles that may chip off nor the fumes given off at high temperatures pose a health hazard. However, because this nonstick finish may be scratched by sharp or rough-edged kitchen tools, the manufacturer’s recommendations should be consulted and the use of utensils that may scratch, abrasive scouring pads, or cleaners avoided.”
There are two things that I find noteworthy though. One, the majority of complaints against DuPont are from industrial exposure, which would be greater than household use but still important from an environmental perspective. Secondly, DuPont has agreed to greatly reduce its output of PFOA. They wrote this in a letter to the EPA:
“Based on existing scientific data, including toxicity data and employee health studies conducted both by DuPont and other scientists, DuPont believes that PFOA exposure does not pose any health risk to the general public. Nonetheless, PFOA has been detected at very low levels in the blood of the general population and DuPont recognizes that the presence of PFOA in people’s blood raises questions that should be addressed. Thus, we have taken action to reduce the potential for human exposure to PFOA from our products and processes. In addition, we have conducted new health studies, expanded our monitoring data and performed extensive fate and exposure analyses.”
They willingly admit that PFOA in people’s blood is an issue that needs to be addressed. For me, I just find it odd that a company would discontinue usage of something that works well for them and that is perfectly safe. It doesn’t add up, but that’s just my opinion. No scientific data there.
It is easy to wonder what non stick pans have these chemicals. Here’s what I’ve learned. Teflon, made by DuPont, is trademarked, but it is no longer under a patent. So, if the non stick pan you are looking at doesn’t say that it is free of PTFE and PFOA, you can pretty much assume they are in there. (Although, DuPont says on its website that as of January 1, 2012, they do not use PFOA to manufacture non stick coatings for cookware and consumer bakeware.)
There are alternatives to the traditional non stick cookware. A whole new line of ceramic coated pans have hit the market. The overall feedback that I’ve seen on these pans is that they don’t hold up well, even if you follow all the manufacturer’s recommendations. I went to a local store and asked for their opinion. The salesman told me that he had actually purchased one of these pans and used it according to the directions, but the ceramic coating was so thin that it easily scratched. Makes sense then that they wouldn’t hold up.
Another option is good old cast iron. Cast iron cookware will generally become more non stick with use. What I love even more is that it will last for generations, and is relatively inexpensive. The only danger is that you might get a little extra iron in your diet (which is no real danger at all!) I have yet to hear anyone who owns cast iron say a negative thing about it.
As a side note, if you are looking for a good set of non stick baking pans, I have to tell you how much I adore my USA pans. They are metal pans that have a silicone coating and are really and truly non stick. No sprays needed (which saves me from unwanted chemicals AND saves me money buying sprays!) I am constantly amazed by how easily my breads come out of my pans. I love these so much that I am replacing my pans little by little with these wonders.
Don’t you love it when the options that are good for you are actually the more economical ones? So cast iron skillets are on my wish list! How about you? What is your go to frying pan? Do you have any great cast iron tips that I should know?