Non-stick cookware refers to cookware that has a chemical coating so that food doesn’t stick. Teflon is the brand name for DuPont’s non-stick cookware, but many other companies (for example, T-Fal and Silverstone) also make non-stick cookware. The chemical name for Teflon is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).
Non-stick cookware may expose you to 2 potentially harmful chemicals:
- tetrafluoroethylene (TFE), used to create the non-stick coating
- perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), used during the manufacturing process
How you’re exposed to chemicals in non-stick coating
If you heat non-stick cookware to high temperatures, it gives off fumes that contain chemicals that are harmful to your health. Some studies show that heating non-stick coatings to 300°C (572°F) can create fumes containing TFE – a possible cancer-causing substance.
You may also be exposed to the chemicals used to make non-stick cookware because these substances are released into the environment during the manufacturing process. This may be of greater concern for people who work in places that make products with non-stick coatings, but scientists have also found increasing levels of PFOA in areas far from the manufacturing plants. Research shows that PFOA is persistent in the environment and that most of the population has been exposed to low levels of the chemical.
Though non-stick coating can sometimes flake off into your food, there is no evidence that eating these small quantities is harmful.
Non-stick cookware and cancer
Exposure to TFE, the chemical that can be released in fumes if you cook with non-stick cookware at high temperatures, may increase cancer risk. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies TFE as a probable cause of cancer, and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) classifies TFE as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. Find out more about how cancer-causing substances are classified.
While most of the population has been exposed to PFOA, the health effects of being exposed are unclear. The US Environmental Protection Agency has not officially classified PFOA, but released a draft review in 2005 that suggested that PFOA was likely to cause cancer. In 2014, IARC classified PFOA as a possible cause of cancer based on limited human and animal studies.
Research on TFE and PFOA is ongoing.
Tips to reduce your exposure
Health Canada, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration do not advise against using cookware with non-stick coatings or other products with PTFE. They advise that non-stick cookware needs to be used properly.
Using non-stick cookware can help you reduce the amount of butter or oil in your diet, which is good for your health. But it is important to remember:
- Don’t use non-stick cookware at high temperatures. Health Canada recommends a maximum temperature of 350°C or 650°F.
- Don’t use non-stick cookware for broiling or other high-temperature baking and cooking.
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