What Is Teflon And Why You Should Avoid It


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Teflon is a household name, found in many homes as the cookware of choice. It is easy to understand why. Non-stick pots, pans and bakeware are extremely convenient to use and of course to clean. Who wants to spend hours scrubbing cooked on food off after cooking a meal?

But What Exactly Is Teflon?

Teflon is the trademarked name for the chemical Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). It is used in a variety of ways, because it is very non-reactive, due to the strength of the carbon-flourine bonds. It is also ‘hydrophobic’ meaning that it cannot be wet by water.

It is therefore a popular choice for cook-ware, as well as stain resistant clothes (such as school uniform) and stain resistant carpets. PTFE is also used as a repellant of grease in food wrap, and containers including pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags.


So What Is The Problem?

It is in widespread use, and has been since the 1940s, so why are we worried about it all of a sudden?

Manufacturers of Teflon have always advised that their cookware should not be heated to extremely high temperatures. They have maintained that the coatings on pans and other products will not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. “significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range.”

However, the following quote taken from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests otherwise:

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°F in three minutes and 20 seconds, with temperatures still rising when the tests were terminated. A Teflon pan reached 721°F in just five minutes under the same test conditions, as measured by a commercially available infrared thermometer.

DuPont studies show that the Teflon off-gases toxic particulates at 446°F.

At 680°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.

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  1. 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! 🙂

    1. Yes but the point they made is that it breaks down before that, at closer to 450 degrees and that is within the normal range for cooking

  2. 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?

  3. 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. 🙂

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. Looks like I am wrong

    We do need 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?

    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.


  7. 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…

  8. Lol oh my goodness my dad said that Teflon can give you or cause cancer so we havexpect a pan that is peelin and I told my dad there is hell no way you are using that pan so and so I gave him a better pan you know and I ha e like only 15 and I am trying to keep my dad healthy from all these pan’s. And our pans are a few years old bit they areally still in good condition bUT they are like so worked out that we might need to get some one pans
    But I might throw away that one pan that I took away from my dad or go holiday it out in the yad

  9. The fear-mongering here is ridiculous. Unless you have a very specialized need to exceed 350 degrees, in which you’d be using specialized cookware anyway, PTFE is perfectly safe. Do any of you seriously cook above 400 degrees on a stove top? Just because a “a generic non-stick frying pan preheated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner reached 736°F in three minutes and 20 seconds” doesn’t mean that’s a typical use case. That’s cranking the burner up to max and getting a worst case scenario. Think critically for a second.

    1. One more thing to add in case anyone’s unsure of how hot they’re actually cooking. Most cooking oils will start to smoke or burn between 400 and 450 degrees.

    2. How can you determine how hot is is actually getting? Envision cooling a steak, a pork chop. These things require time and a degree a high heat.

  10. Here’s the primary problem. DuPont knew all of this decades ago and continued to poison people until studies revealed that literally everyone on the planet has PFC in their blood and got it from the use of Teflon pans, stain resistant clothes and school uniforms even the military used it in munitions and the numerous siege weaponry and vehicles. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that DuPont even acknowledge any of this (as a result of insurmountable evidence) and stopped using the chemical Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). But then of course they replaced it with an equally dangerous chemical called Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) There’s even evidence that has surfaced alleging DuPont had pregnant female factory workers give birth to highly deformed children as a result of the direct exposure to (PTFE). Most of the babies born had an insanely high amount of the chemical in the blood. Teflon is Forever

  11. I find that teflons are incredibly overrated, iron pans covered in oil work much better, and they don’t stick at all. Iron has much better heat conductivity, and the pan gets heated up quicker and hotter, and hence making the food taste better. Eggs and meat cooked in iron pan are simply delicious.

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