How safe is it to use non-stick Teflon cookware? Health24's EnviroHealth expert answers:
Teflon not the main worry
The concern is about the chemical PFOA, a suspected human carcinogen, which is used in the manufacture of Teflon-coated cookware (and several other products), not so much Teflon itself. PFOA has not shown to be produced when you use Teflon cookware in the kitchen, only when you manufacture it. PFOA is thought to be present in low levels in just about everyone’s blood. A recent Johns Hopkins study found traces of PFOA in the umbilical cord blood of 99% of newborn babies.
So, scientists know that PFOA is entering the environment and our bodies, but they don’t know exactly how, or whether the low levels in our blood are harmful. But it’s enough of a concern that manufacturers are starting to phase PFOA out of their production processes. Studies are underway to find out more about the PFOA issue, and there should be clearer recommendations in the next few years.
It's OK to use those pots and pans
In the meantime, it’s considered safe to continue to use your Teflon cookware. But take care not to exceed the temperature recommendations for its use i.e. don’t heat it above about 230°C, because it’s at these high temperatures that chemicals can off-gas from the surface. It’s obviously important not to leave non-stick pans unattended on a stove, where they can quickly dry out and reach high temperatures.
Also, look after your cookware: don’t use metal utensils or steel wool on it, wash it gently, and don’t stack other pots and pans on top of it.
And if it’s starting to look old and worn, it’s probably time to replace it.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, Health24's EnviroHealth expert, May 2006