You may think a lot about the quality and type of food you eat, but have you ever thought about what you cook it in?
If you haven’t, now is the time to start because cookware may be one of the most toxic items in your home. It can add toxins to the food you cook (particularly ones known as “forever chemicals”) and even release toxic fumes when heated to a certain temperature.
And unfortunately, the most dangerous cookware also happens to be the most popular.
The Most Dangerous Type of Cookware
In an age of convenience, it should come as no surprise that the most popular type of cookware is the nonstick variety. A whole generation has now grown up without the annoyance of food sticking to the pan- although at an unseen price.
Conventional nonstick coating was invented around the 1940s (more on that in a minute). It has become increasingly popular ever since then, becoming almost a household staple.
However, it has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years for harmful health effects. One of the main chemicals in the original nonstick coating was phased even out in 2013 because there were so many health concerns connected to it.
Due to the phase-out of that chemical, cookware companies would like to convince you that their products are safer now. But you might not want to believe those who benefit from nonstick coatings to the amount of billions of dollars without doing a little research of your own…
Where Did Nonstick Cookware Come From?
The most recognizable brand name for the nonstick coating you typically find on cookware is Teflon. It was originally created, though not on purpose, by a man named Roy J. Plunkett.
Just before the start of World War II, Plunkett was trying to create a new non-flammable coolant for refrigerators. He was working at the time for a company called DuPont. By accident, he discovered a substance known scientifically as polytetrafluoroethylene.
This new substance was slippery and incredibly resistant to corrosion. It could also withstand both extremely cold and extremely warm temperatures.
Eventually, polytetrafluoroethylene was used to make certain components of the atomic bomb because it was resistant enough to hold up to the corrosive nature of the bomb.
Shortly after the war, polytetrafluoroethylene, which started going by the brand name of Teflon, was applied to cookware. It was hailed as an almost miraculous substance that food didn’t stick to, was easy to clean, and needed little oil for cooking.
Teflon also appeared in other places, including in wire coatings, waterproof fabric, and stain-resistant carpeting.
The Problem With Nonstick Coatings
The main dangers of nonstick cookware come from one group of chemicals: PFAS.
PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. This is a group of manmade chemicals that have been nicknamed “forever chemicals” because of how long they persist in the environment and in the human body. They are also a common water toxin.
One of the worst in this group is a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). It has been one of the most well-researched PFAS for its toxic health effects and also happened to be one of the major chemicals in the original Teflon.
PFOA has been linked to major health issues, including cancer, hormone disruption, and thyroid disease. It has proven to be so potentially toxic that a global ban of PFOA was agreed on by over 180 countries in 2019.
Now, PFOA was phased out of Teflon in 2013, although older nonstick cookware still likely contains it.
The only problem?
New nonstick coatings contain another variation of PFAS that has not been proven to be any safer. Companies don’t have to prove a chemical is harmless before they use it. They just work around a ban on one chemical by creating a new, yet similar, one in the same family that hasn’t been proven harmful- yet.
Specific Dangers of Nonstick Cookware
Contains Chemicals Linked to Serious Health Problems
Let’s look more into the specific health hazards of PFOA and PFAS.
One of the most significant potential dangers is an increased cancer risk from exposure to PFAS. In fact, this was a major reason behind the global ban on PFOA- probable human carcinogenic activity.
PFOA has been linked, in particular, to kidney, testicular, and breast cancer.
Apart from this, animal studies have also shown that PFAS can cause liver and kidney harm as well as reproductive, developmental, and immunological problems. They can also have an effect on your hormones, particularly in relation to your thyroid.
The same research also documented that PFOA and PFOS (another forever chemical) caused tumors to form in animals.
Of course, cooking with nonstick pans that are flaking or scratched will expose you to more concentrated amounts of these chemicals. But that doesn’t mean use of non-damaged cookware is safe. Forever chemicals have proven to accumulate in the human body over time, even through “minor” exposure.
Off-Gasses Toxic Fumes
Another danger is that nonstick cookware, specifically Teflon pans, release toxic fumes when heated to a certain temperature.
This isn’t a new discovery. DuPont (the maker of Teflon) has known about it ever since workers started getting the “Teflon flu” in production factories.
Also known as polymer fume fever, flu-like symptoms can occur when polytetrafluoroethylene (nonstick coating) is heated to temperatures above 350°C (662°F). This includes fever, chills, headaches, and respiratory symptoms.
According to DuPont, these fumes only form at temperatures well above the normal cooking range. However, according to tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), this isn’t the case.
The EWG found that a Teflon pan reached 721°F when preheated for just 5 minutes on an electric stovetop burner. It also reached 464°F in just about 2 1/2 minutes, at which temperature DuPont’s own studies have shown that toxic particles are released.
To add to this, at 680°F, several toxic gases were released, including two known carcinogens. DuPont has also stated that Teflon coating will start to decompose at temperatures above 660°F.
“Normal cooking temperatures” aren’t so safe for nonstick cookware after all!
Deadly to Pet Birds
If you still aren’t convinced that fumes from nonstick cookware can be toxic, let’s take a look at a disturbing phenomena: the death of hundreds of pet birds from Teflon off-gassing.
This is a little known danger of using nonstick cookware and particularly of special interest to bird owners.
There are hundreds of cases of fatal bird poisonings that have been called “Teflon toxicosis.” They occur when the birds breathe in fumes from heated nonstick coating that cause their lungs to hemorrhage and fill with fluid. This eventually leads to suffocation and often death.
Once again, this happens during normal cooking methods with nonstick cookware.
For example, a Teflon-lined pan was used to bake biscuits (at 325°F) and the owner’s baby parrots died. In another case, four stovetop burners with Teflon-coated drip pans were preheated and 14 birds died in only 15 minutes.
The list, unfortunately, goes on but you get the picture.
And while this is incredibly devastating for the bird owners, it also brings up another question: What do you think is happening to your lungs when you breathe in these same fumes?
You may not notice any effects, but it’s clear that there are some seriously toxic chemicals being emitted from nonstick cookware.
Harmful During Manufacturing
Using nonstick cookware is bad for your health, but it’s even more dangerous during the manufacturing process. Workers are often exposed to much higher levels of PFAS during production than are found in the finished product.
Back when PFOA was used to make Teflon, one worker was directly involved in mixing the chemicals while she was pregnant. She later gave birth to a son, Bucky Bailey, who was born with one eye out of place and only one nostril. He would later need around 40 reconstructive surgeries on his face.
It was never proven conclusively that this came from PFOA exposure, but he wasn’t the only victim.
Eventually, nearly the whole town of Parkersburg (where the Teflon factory was) sued DuPont through lawyer Robert Bilott. They were tired of mysterious health problems that plagued people in their town, including cancer, thyroid disease, and autoimmune disorders.
These people didn’t all work at the factory, but they were getting sick from water polluted with PFAS and other chemicals from the factory.
In fact, reports have found that before PFOA was phased out, “large quantities were released into the environment during manufacturing processes and are now being found in drinking water supplies.” This is most likely still happening with other PFAS, causing untold damage to the environment, animals, and humans.
Chemicals Keep Accumulating
You most likely already have PFOA and other PFAS in your body. These chemicals are present in water, food, and the environment worldwide now and detected regularly in human serum.
One survey that was completed in 2004 showed that PFOA and PFOS were present in 98% of the blood samples tested in the U.S. It’s unlikely that this percentage has decreased since then- and it doesn’t even include other PFAS that haven’t been tested for.
The point is this: You want to avoid PFAS as much as possible, since they are already accumulating in your body.
Conventional nonstick cookware is known to be made with these chemicals, so it’s best to do your body a favor and ditch it.
Other Types of Cookware to Avoid
Aluminum cookware is another popular choice because it’s lightweight and conducts heat quickly. However, aluminum is reactive to both acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus, etc.) and heat. This means it can leach aluminum into your food, which is not a good thing.
Exposure to too much aluminum has been linked to neurotoxic effects. This includes an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, although the link hasn’t been conclusively proven. There is also a potential link to breast cancer.
Copper should be considered “borderline” cookware. It heats well and may actually be beneficial for someone who is copper deficient because small amounts of copper can be leached into food.
However, too much copper can contribute to heavy metal toxicity, which is not something you want. Another danger is that some copper cookware has a coating that contains nickel, which can be toxic. If you absolutely want to use copper, look for nickel-free copper coating over a stainless steel lining.
Don’t Forget the Utensils
Nylon or nonstick cooking utensils should be avoided along with nonstick pots, pans, etc. They may contain PFAS and are often made with PVC or chemicals called primary aromatic amines (PAAs).
These utensils also usually melt over time, which means you end up eating the chemicals in them.
Top Choices for Safer Cookware Alternatives
GOOD: Cast Iron, Tried and Tested
Cast iron may be old-fashioned cookware, but it works as well as it always did. Pots and pans made of cast iron are non-toxic and retain heat very well. They can also withstand higher heats than other cookware and even add a little extra iron to your diet.
One concern or possible benefit of iron cookware, depending on your body, is that a small amount of the iron can make its way into food when cooking. Too much iron in the body can be toxic. However, for those who are iron deficient, this may be beneficial.
Another small downside to cast iron is that it requires a little more maintenance to clean and season your cookware. It also takes a fair bit of muscle to handle a standard skillet!
BETTER: Stainless Steel, Non-toxic and Durable
Stainless steel is a lighter weight option than cast iron but just as nontoxic. It resists corrosion, heats evenly, and won’t flake off into your food. Stainless steel isn’t reactive like aluminum is, which means much safer cooking.
Unfortunately, stainless steel pans are not nonstick, which can take some practice if you aren’t used to it. Some people are concerned because nickel is present in stainless steel in small amounts, although it has not been shown to leach into food. Also, avoid scratching your pans with abrasive cleaners to keep them safe for cooking.
BEST: Ceramic, Natural Nonstick Option
If you want nonstick cookware without the toxicity, look into ceramic. This natural substance has been used for thousands of years for cooking purposes and won’t leach toxins into your food. You can even cook without oil on ceramic coated cookware.
One potential downside is that low quality ceramic can be contaminated with lead and/or cadmium- two toxins you do not want in your body. Ceramic also has a reputation for cracking and discoloring, although new technology has solved this…
Newly Developed Ceramic Cookware for Chemical-Free Cooking
Well aware of the major problems of conventional nonstick cookware, Chefs Foundry developed their own line of completely nontoxic cookware: the P600 Cookware Range.
They used a revolutionary ceramic coating that is both durable and resistant to cracking and discoloration. It goes through a three step process to completely seal the ceramic coating, resulting in natural nonstick cookware that will last.
You won’t have to worry about toxins leaching into your food or about cracking and chipping. Every batch is independently tested for lead and cadmium and, of course, completely free of PFAS.
Look into the Chefs Foundry P600 Cookware line here and start cleaning up your cookware!