Non-stick pans and other cookware are a staple in almost every kitchen, letting us cook and clean up with ease. However, unlike regular pans, using non-stick ones the wrong way can lead to harmful health effects!
What are Non-stick Pans?
Non-stick pans are coated with a material called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), better known as Teflon. This makes the pan very smooth and prevents food from sticking.
Image by Freepik
Are Non-stick Pans Safe?
Studies so far have shown that PTFE is non-toxic and inert when used as a coating. However, when cooking temperatures are greater than 260 °C, PTFE can start to produce fumes. Such temperatures can be reached when pans are pre-heated empty for too long, i.e. more than a few minutes. When pans are overheated beyond 350 °C, the coating begins to break down to release harmful gases that can even be lethal in extreme cases.
In the past, the manufacture of older non-stick pans used to include a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which turned out to be a type of persistent organic pollutant called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). You may have heard of them as ‘forever chemicals’. Some studies have linked PFAS to various health issues such as immune system dysfunction, hormone disruption, decreased fertility, and an increased risk of certain cancers.
However, since then, most manufacturers have replaced PFOA with safer chemicals. The non-stick cookware from reputable brands now are PFOA-free.
Damaged Non-stick Pans Should Not Be Used
While modern non-stick pans are quite safe when used properly, be careful not to use these when the coating is damaged. For example, the coating could be damaged due to long time usage, or abrasion or scratching by hard objects during cooking and washing.
Using a pan with damaged coating can cause your food to be contaminated by PFAS, micro- and nanoplastics.
About the author
Mr Ang Wei Min is a Specialist Team Lead from the Food Science Rapid Response Department of the National Centre for Food Science. He has a M.Sc. in Chemistry from the National University of Singapore and is currently responsible for matters related to food contact material.