July 12, 2008

Did you know that non-stick cookware may be dangerous?

Posted in Food tagged , , , , at 6:01 pm by myrlinn

I was asked to write an article about choosing a wok recently (interesting experience, actually. I researched the subject, but once I did that, I realised that I actually do know quite a lot about it through using various types of work over the years), and in the process of writing it, I discovered that non-stick may be harmful to your health.

When we got our latest non-stick pan, the instructions said not to cook at high heat. I wondered about that. Why? I just left it at that, thinking that it probably has to do with damage to the coating.

Well, while researching my wok article, I found out that apparently damage to the coating is not all there is to this particular cautionary note. More alarming, if a non-stick pan is overheated, it gives off gases, which may be dangerous.

According to the DuPont site (http://www.teflon.com/Teflon/teflonissafe/keyquestions.html#q3):

The fumes that are released by overheated polymer can produce symptoms referred to as “polymer fume fever” – flu-like symptoms that are relatively quickly reversed in humans. Over the past 40 years, there have been only a few reported accounts of polymer fume fever as a result of severely overheating non-stick cookware. It should be noted that butter, fats, and cooking oils will begin to smoke at approximately 400°F (204°C), producing fumes that can irritate eyes, nose, and throat and possibly cause respiratory distress. DuPont non-stick coatings will not begin to deteriorate in appearance or performance until the temperature of the cookware reaches about 500°F (260°C). The coating will not show significant decomposition unless temperatures exceed about 660°F (349°C).

The same DuPont page recommends:

It is best if a coated pan is used on low or medium heat. Higher temperatures (above 500°F) can be reached while cooking, but the food will likely burn and smoke to unacceptable levels. Even higher temperatures (above 600°F or 316°C) can be reached within minutes, if dry or empty cookware is left on a hot burner or in a hot oven. Non-stick cookware should not be left unattended or allowed to get very hot without food in the pan.

This is something that I’ve never heard mentioned in the media in Singapore, but should be of concern because in Asia, non-stick woks are very popular, and our traditional cooking methods require cooking at high heat.

I had been careful to turn down the flame every time we use our non-stick pans after reading the warning label on our non-stick pan. But I’m even more careful now after reading the information on the DuPont site. If the manufacturer themselves admit that there may be some danger, well… you should definitely take heed.

Having said all that, I still use non-stick. Soooo useful for frying eggs (I LOVE eggs sunny-side up) and frying fish. I just remember to turn the flame down every time I cook.



  1. Steven said,

    It would be wise of you to use the traditional cookware, not Teflon coated. I’ve thrown all mine away. Any heat created off-gassing, and a little poison every day adds up…

    • myrlinn said,

      Hi Steven, I’ve heard of people doing that, throwing away all nonstick. We haven’t gone that far. We’re still using ours, but we’re trying to replace our nonstick ware as they wear out.

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