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Non-stick cookware …beware!

When non-stick cookware was first released in the market, people eagerly bought kadhais, frying pans, tavas, griddles etc. The non-stick coating was great for flipping parathas, frying eggs and making dosas. Its benefits included not having to scrape through burnt food stuck stubbornly in pans, being able to fry with less or no oil, faster cooking time etc. 

Non-stick cookware is coated with Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE. Unfortunately, this contains a harmful chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which has been linked to some health conditions like chronic kidney disease, thyroid disease, heart disease and strokes, testicular cancer, liver disease, infertility, low birth weight infants etc.

Following widespread protests from consumers, all leading non-stick cookware brands including Teflon have been PFOA-free since 2013. So, Teflon generally is today considered safe. However, at temperatures above 300°C, Teflon coating on cookware begins to break down and release toxic chemicals. In fact, high temperature cooking for long hours can lead to ‘Teflon Flu’ or ‘polymer fume fever’ from inhaling all the gases emitted from your non-stick cookware. Symptoms include influenza with headaches, chills, and fever. Lung damage can also occur.

You can minimize your risk of exposure to harmful chemicals while cooking in non-stick cookware by using the following tips
  1. Don't preheat an empty non-stick pot, pan or tava. When empty, they heat up quickly, break down the coating (at a molecular level not visible to the human eye) and release harmful polymer fumes.
  2. Choose a heavy weight non-stick pan as opposed to a light-weight one which will heat up quickly.
  3. Cook on low or medium heat as against high heat when using non-stick cookware.
  4. Avoid broiling of food in non-stick cookware.
  5. Use wooden or silicon spoons when stirring food. Regular stainless steel spoons can scratch out the coating.
  6. Ventilate your kitchen by opening up windows or turning on an exhaust fan….to help clear any toxic fumes.
  7. Do not use steel wool or metal scouring pads to clean non-stick cookware.
  8. Do not stack non-stick pans one on top of the other…use a paper towel between them if you want to save space on your kitchen shelf or utensil cabinet.
  9.  Once the coating begins to chip or flake or peel or get scratched out, discard and replace immediately.
  10. Most importantly, if you cook with oil, be sure to clean off all the cooking oil after each use. Else layers of oil will build up, reducing the non-stick properties of your cookware. Sadly, if you vigorously scrub off the layers of oil, you will also scrape off the non-stick coating. An easy way out of this conundrum is to not use oil !!!
Personally, we use stainless steel pans and ceramic-coated cast iron cookware (Le Creuset)….expensive…heavy to handle while doing pot washing (which we do ourselves)…but really good to cook in. The ceramic coating is a better heat conductor and does not contain toxic chemicals. Traditional cast iron pans and stoneware (both of which have been seasoned well) and ceramic cookware are also good to cook in. Ceramic cookware is free of PTFE and PFOA.

How about you? Are you a fan of non-stick cookware?  Whichever cookware you choose to cook in, it is important to recognize that the way you cook and clean your pan can have as much or more of an impact on cookware longevity ( and your own longevity) than the coating itself !!!

Stay blessed with good health…always!!!

Warm regards,

Charmaine D’Souza


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