When you wake up in the morning, your first priority is usually to get the coffee going. Next, it’s time to whip up your famous scrambled eggs for an early protein boost. But with the new year, maybe you’ve committed to eliminating calories where you can, so you’re skipping the butter and oil. The obvious solution for those scrambled eggs is to heat them up in the nonstick pan you've been using for years.
But before reaching for your trusty nonstick skillet, you should know that it could contain PFAS, harmful chemicals that can potentially seep into your food. The family of PFAS contains over 4,700 fluorine-based compounds that are known to be harmful to health, yet many are still being widely used.
What Are PFAS?
Starting in the 1930s, cookware companies discovered a chemical polymer that revolutionized cooking. Marketed most broadly under the Teflon brand name, this chemical was used to coat pans, making cooking and cleanup a breeze. Food molecules didn’t bond to this unreactive substance (unless the coating was scratched or damaged), so rather than sticking, food slid off with ease.
Fast forward a few decades and problems with the chemicals used in creating this nonstick coating came to light, eventually leading to legal repercussions. In 2019, the movie Dark Waters brought this monumental issue to the forefront. It shone a spotlight on the 1998 case of a Minnesota farmer who lived near a DuPont chemical plant. After years of struggle, he successfully held them liable for damages to the health of his family, land, and livestock due to chemical dumping and the effects of prolonged exposure. In 2021, John Oliver shared an update on the PFAS saga on his show Last Week Tonight.
Understanding The Acronyms
There are a few different acronyms for these chemicals, so it’s easy to get confused about what they mean. The first thing to know is that this family of chemicals is man-made, and all pose health threats to the living things they come into contact with.
Let’s define each for clarity:
PFOS: Perfluorooctane Sulfonate
PFOA: Perfluorooctanoic Acid
PFAS: Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. This is a broad term that includes both Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA).
Why Are PFA Chemicals Bad?
There is a long list of side effects and long-term health risks caused by exposure to PFOA’s. According to Consumer Reports, the following risks are present:
Decreased sperm quality
Can reduce the immune response to childhood vaccines
May increase the risk of infectious disease.
Have been directly linked to several underlying conditions that increase vulnerability to severe symptoms of COVID-19, including obesity, asthma, kidney disease, and high cholesterol.
How Many People Are Exposed to PFAS?
Exposure to PFAS is common, primarily because these chemicals have been used so commonly for decades. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that they never break down. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, you can come into contact with PFAS in a variety of ways:
- Some grease-resistant paper, fast food containers/wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, and candy wrappers
- Nonstick cookware
- Stain-resistant coatings used on carpets, upholstery, and other fabrics
- Water-resistant clothing (like rain jackets and ski gear)
- Cleaning products
- Personal care products (shampoo, dental floss) and cosmetics (nail polish, eye makeup)
- Paints, varnishes, and sealants
Forever Chemicals and How to Go Forward
PFAS have been called forever chemicals because their unique makeup means they never break down. They are so persistent that they remain in the air, our drinking water, dust, and soil, and they continue to show up in our food and water supply long after they first came into contact. The problem is that once they enter our bodies, they remain forever. And, because we’re now aware of the damage they cause, there’s no going back.
But, we can go forward. Being an aware and educated consumer means you can make healthier choices about the cookware you use at home and the products you purchase. Food systems expert Anna Lappé (daughter of Frances Moore Lappé, author of the bestselling book Diet for A Small Planet) once stated “Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” If we want a world free of these harmful chemicals, we have to vote with our dollars. That starts with stocking your kitchen and pantry with safe alternatives to PFAS.
Trying to find some cookware for the holidays but don’t know where to search? Check out de Buyer!
Are Nonstick Pans Safe?
One of the most widespread tools used in anyone’s kitchen is the nonstick pan, often composed of carbon steel. It’s perfect for a wide variety of tasks, ranging from cooking eggs to browning some meet - everyone wants a pan and everyone needs a pan! They’ve been a staple of American kitchens for many years, and most don’t think twice about them. Nonstick pans are, after all, found in many bigbox stores, and are widely available to the average consumer.
Many people may wonder whether or not they’re safe to use - you just buy one and use it, right? However, it might not be that simple. As we’ve discussed, PFAS are very harmful, and are something that should be avoided. It used to be the case that the Teflon products found within nonstick pans contained PFAS, causing many health risks and worries among the American populace.
A many decades-long investigation was done into the topic, and it was found that nonstick pans are in fact safe of PFOAS. SInce 2013, PFOAS have been free from being present within cooking pans, and production has stopped.
What About PFAS?
This is where things get a little bit tricky. PFAS may still be present in cooking pans, with research still being done as to what role they play in affecting human health, and how they cause harm to people. We have to still await the results of further research before we make any firm conclusions into how PFAS affect our famous household cookware.
Are There Any Other Dangers of Teflon?
While we’ve covered in-depth PFOAS and PFAS, there’s other concerns to be had about using Teflon. At 500 degrees Fahrenheit (or 260 degrees Celsius), Teflon starts to break down from the heat and release some harmful chemicals into the air. These chemicals may then lead to what’s known as Teflon flu.
Teflon flu has generally mild side effects like chills, fever, headaches, and body-aches. It typically takes between 4-10 hours after exposure to begin feeling anything, with this being resolved within 12-48 hours after the onset. However, in rare cases, more serious things like lung damage have been reported.
All in all, it depends largely on how you prepare and use Teflon. If you’re safe and mindful of the temperatures you cook at, you should be okay, but if you enjoy to cook at very high temperatures, then do beware that there could be some harmful effects.
How To Alleviate Risks While Cooking with Nonstick Tools
There’s some basic things you can do to alleviate your risk if you’re going to be using nonstick tools to cook. By following these tips, you should be okay to avoid any safety issues with using nonstick products, especially those containing Teflon.
Make sure you don’t preheat an empty pan, as this can cause temperatures to rise to dangerously high levels. Also avoid cooking on high heat and stick to using low or medium, this will avoid the temperature getting too high to handle. Make sure you ventilate your kitchen so that way any fumes can quickly go outside into the air, and make sure to always wash your hands to get the excess residue off. Also be sure to replace any old cookware that you may be using.
Are There Safe Alternatives?
The answer is a resounding yes! And thankfully, options are abundant and at your fingertips. Safe alternatives to PFAS, some using coatings like ceramic or PTFE and others taking advantage of the seasoning process to create natural nonstick properties, have proven just as effective at repelling water and grease, as well as simplifying cooking and cleanup.
At de Buyer, our products do not contain these chemicals. All of our cookware and bakeware, even our nonstick, is PFAS-free. Our specially designed nonstick CHOC collections will keep your family and your food safe while making cooking and cleanup easy. Pro Tip: Be sure to use non-abrasive utensils so as not to damage the nonstick properties.
Related: Stainless Steel vs Copper Cookware
Here are some de Buyer alternatives to check out:
- CHOC Collection: This collection is made with a thick aluminum with 5 layers of PTFE coating to make it more durable and longer lasting. The colored handles make it easy to cook meat, fish, and veggies separately to avoid cross-contamination.
- CHOC Intense Collection: The forged aluminum body of this collection is fitted with a ferritic stainless steel base, making it induction ready. Its French-style handle is made of stainless steel allowing it to be used in the oven as well as stove top. The ultra-smooth surface makes it particularly suitable for cooking delicate food, such as certain types of fish, and lets you cook with very little fat.
- Mineral B Collections: Our Carbon Steel collections become naturally nonstick after being properly seasoned, so they can be used without a second thought of whether it is safe. It comes just with a natural beeswax coating that is easily removed and any residue helps in the seasoning process.
What To Look For
Knowing what to look for on product labels is a good first step. Today, consumer advocacy groups have had some success in forcing more transparency. In 2021, California joined Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington in banning PFAS in food packaging. More states are set to join the fight for more accurate labeling.
The next time you buy a coated nonstick pan, a bag of popcorn, or even a weatherproof jacket, it’s important to find out whether it might contain these harmful chemicals. If you’re not sure, contact the manufacturer before you buy. Play it safe and stick to brands you know that don’t use these chemicals. You can always rest assured that the de Buyer brand stands proudly among them!
On the market for some high-quality kitchen supplies? Give de Buyer a look!