Hands up who has never used a non-stick pan! These pans are comfortable and practical, they allow you to cook quickly and easily, the food does not stick and little butter or oil is required, making the dishes lighter. However, the non-stick pans have been, and are still being, at the center of numerous discussions about their safety, since fears have been expressed that their use may be linked to an increased risk of developing tumors. Let’s try to understand better and to know also the position of science in this regard.
Non-stick pans are dangerous?
In the coverings of non-stick pans we can find a substance called polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, but the commercial names of the product containing this substance such as Teflon, Fluon or Inoflon are certainly better known. This substance is not dangerous or at least it is not toxic if the pot is used correctly, in the next paragraph we will see the recommendations. The danger of non-stick materials is however connected to another substance, called perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, which, until a few years ago, was used in the production of the material. Well, PFOA, as suggested by several scientific studies, is a toxic substance related to an increase of some types of tumors and thyroid problems (Barry et al, Environ Health Perspect., 2013 - Steenland et al, Environ Health Perspect., 2010). The IARC classifies PFOA in group 2B, that is among the substances considered possibly carcinogenic to humans. However, all the manufacturers of non-stick pans have committed themselves, since 2015, to no longer use PFOA in production and therefore this substance should no longer be present in the pots produced after this date.
How to use the non-stick pans correctly
Even if nowadays all the pans are PFOA free when you use a non-stick one you should always pay some more attention. The material is in fact stable if it remains at low temperatures but can release toxic fumes and particles when it exceeds 280° C (Shuster et al, Comp Med, 2012). In this case, in fact, symptoms similar to those of the flu have been recorded, not for nothing it is called teflon flu, such as headaches, fever, chills and pains in the joints, which normally resolve within a few hours (Greenberg et al , Clin Toxicol, 2015), although there are cases reported in the literature with more serious consequences affecting the lungs (Hamaya et al, J Med Case Rep, 2015). A good tip is therefore not to forget the non-stick pan on the fire, not preheat it for a long time if it is still empty inside, because, in a short time, it can reach high temperatures, and not use it for cooking methods such as grilling where these temperatures can be easily reached. Finally, it is better to ventilate the kitchen frequently and also be careful not to scratch the material using metal utensils. In the case the pot is scratched this should be changed.
Non-stick pans, alternative
As we have seen, the new-generation Teflon pans used with some care are certainly safe. Then there are the cast iron pans, very resistant and also, if well seasoned, non-stick. Seasoning is a process that involves spreading a layer of grease, like oil, on the pan and then heating it up to create a sort of coating. There are also ceramic pans, which are highly non-stick and scratch-resistant, but can break down due to strong shocks or falls.