What Is Teflon And Why You Should Avoid It.

July 31, 2007

You know your parents used it when you were growing up and that restaurants use it to cook your food with, but what is teflon? And do you know just how bad teflon can be? Chances are, you probably don’t, but it’s important that you learn what it is and why you should be avoiding it at all costs.

What is Teflon?

Teflon is the trademarked name for the chemical Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This chemical, which makes things “non-stick” in its use in cookware, should be classified as a “likely carcinogen” (a cancer-causing substance) according to some advisers to the EPA. You would think that that should be enough to get the EPA to ban its use in products meant to heat up and cook food, but alas no…they have just decided that the companies using Teflon should make it less likely to break down. Yep, in effect, everybody can keep using Teflon as long as they figure out a way to keep it from leeching into everything that it is used in…cookware, clothes, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, your mouth, etc. And companies have until 2015 to do so.

teflon

Within two to five minutes on a stove, cookware coated with Teflon can exceed temperatures at which the teflon coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to thousands of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year. Sounds safe, right? From the Environmental Working Group:

“In new tests conducted by a university food safety professor, a generic non-stick frying pan preheated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner reached 736 degrees F in three minutes and 20 seconds, with temperatures still rising when the tests were terminated. A Teflon pan reached 721 degrees F in just five minutes under the same test conditions (See Figure 1), as measured by a commercially available infrared thermometer. DuPont studies show that the Teflon offgases toxic particulates at 446 degrees F. At 680 degrees F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses. At temperatures that DuPont scientists claim are reached on stovetop drip pans (1000 F), non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas phosgene.

Well that certainly sounds safe, no?

Avoiding Teflon

A few years back I switched to stainless steel cookware and have not looked back. They might take a little bit longer to clean up, but it is worth it knowing I am not cooking any additional toxic chemicals into my food, never mind releasing dangerous gases into the air. If you have pans coated with Teflon and have been wondering “what is Teflon?”, now you know – I would really advise you to get rid of them and buy stainless steel or cast iron ones; even cheap ones from Target or somewhere like that are better than using the ones coated with Teflon.

Multiple studies have shown how toxic this stuff is; so would you like a side of polytetrafluoroethylene or perfluorooctanoic acid with your eggs? Did not think so. Teflon is toxic so avoid it at all costs.

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About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (23)

  1. David says:

    I actually said stainless steel, not aluminum.

  2. nicxvan says:

    I am a plastics engineer, so I know quite a bit about how different materials break down. Honestly, PTFE doesn’t worry me, however I will be looking into it a bit more. What does worry me is the breakdown of polycarbonate in food products, the precursor there is highly toxic. I just wanted to say though that your claim to switch to aluminum pots may be a step backwards. Any acidic conditions, i.e. tomato sauce will just break down the aluminum and you end up ingesting that. However, it is your choice! :)

  3. Brian says:

    So, don’t heat naked teflon, keep it under 500 deg F

  4. Amanda says:

    If only it were that simple, Brian. Unfortunately, like the clip suggests, temperatures above 500 degrees are reached very quickly — more quickly than most would assume — and the nonstick coating begins to break down before the temperature even reaches 500.

    >would you like a side of polytetrafluoroethylene or perfluorooctanoic acid with your eggs?

  5. David says:

    Mobius – Why use it at all when there are alternatives? Even if I probably won’t overheat it, I don’t take the chance. And that’s OK steven george, we all don’t. :-)

  6. Mobius says:

    OK – so none of you has ever read the proper instructions on how to use a non-stick pan then.

    Firstly, non-stick pans should only be purchased when they are heavyweights. Any and every chef will tell you that lightweight pans are essentially useless: dropping food in immediately lowers the temperature of the pan, and food boils rather than fies.

    So – throw out all those lightweight non-stick pans.

    Stick with known-good brands like Le Creuset.

    Secondly, non-stick pans must be used in the following manor (particularly over a gas flame):

    The flame or element should be approximately half the size of the pan, AND NO MORE. Use only the lowest heat setting on gas, or a temperature which only JUST makes butter bubble if you drop a dob on it.

    DO NOT ever turn the flame up to maximum.

    Let the pan do the work – not the element. Cooking at too high a temperature is not good. Smoking pans are pans which are too hot. No pan should EVER smoke!

    Whe3n you have finished cooking, do NOT drop the pan into water, or cool it quickly! Let the pan cool down naturally. This prolongs the lifetime of the non stick surface.

    I think you will find that if you follow these simple rules, the temperature in the pan will NEVER exceed the temperature at which dangerous chemicals are released, or where the Teflon starts to denature.

  7. David says:

    It has been well-known for years that Teflon fumes will kill pet birds, even large parrots kept in rooms far away from the kitchen, if the Teflon pan is allowed to over-heat. If it kills birds, it probably doesn’t do us any good! Also, it’s used in countless other products, such as self-cleaning stoves and toaster ovens, not just pans. Watch for it!

  8. Stephen George says:

    Switch to Stainless steel Pans?

    Strainless steel =
    85% Iron
    15% chromium

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stainless_steel

    Okay happy with Iron as this is a required element for the body
    but chromium? I don’t think it has an RDA.

    Probably best off using cast iron.

    That will keep your pecker up.

    Regards

    Stephen

  9. Stephen George says:

    Looks like I am wrong

    We do need Chromium

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromium
    Trivalent chromium (Cr(III), or Cr3+) is required in trace amounts for sugar metabolism in humans (Glucose Tolerance Factor) and its deficiency may cause a disease called chromium deficiency. In contrast, hexavalent chromium is very toxic and mutagenic when inhaled as popularized by the film Erin Brockovich. Cr(VI) has not been established as a carcinogen when not inhaled but in solution it is well established as a cause of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD).[2]

    I wonder what you get when you cook with stainless steel?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromium_deficiency
    In the United States, the dietary guidelines for adequate daily chromium intake were lowered from 50-200 µg for an adult to 30- 35 µg (adult male) and to 20-25 µg (adult female).[1] Recently it has been shown that the popular dietary supplement chromium picolinate generates chromosome damage in hamster cells.

    Oh well.

    Still think I will stick with cast iron.
    Excuse the pun. Teflon,stick, cast iron :-)

    No I don’t get out much.

    Grin

  10. Allen says:

    Here’s an idea: Stop cooking your food! Cooked food isn’t really food. Check out this link:
    http://www.foodnsport.com

  11. phil says:

    got here via SU…

    Allen: Good point except for the fact that most of us eat meat. I dunno about you but raw chicken just doesn’t appeal…

    And as far as the arguments against using stainless steel, or even aluminum, give me a break. No matter what, they are safer than Dupont’s poisons. Once these chemicals get inside of you they NEVER leave. PFOA is actually worse than their final product (teflon), hence the massive amount of cancer and birth defects with the Dupont factory workers.

    Unfortunately, Dupont has a lot of clout with our Government. Hence the “2015″ date they were given to “reduce” the amount of deadly and persistent chemicals they produce. 2015 might as well be an eternity away…