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Which Pots and Pans Are Safe?

How to Choose Cookware for Your Kitchen

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The vast majority of cookware sold in America is perfectly safe; manufacturer's certainly don't want to risk liability by having constituents that could leach into the food or water.

Having said that, in recent years, a number of controversies have come and gone (although there are always a few conspiracy type websites keeping even the absurd ones alive.

Compounds used in the manufacturer of Teflon is the latest controversy. Very often in producing commercial products, hazardous constituents are reacted to form a new material which is inert or nontoxic. An obvious illustration is hydrogen (the gas in the Hindenburg) and oxygen. When combined, they can explode. But the reaction produces water. Only water. Nothing else but pure, clean water.

It seems likely that Teflon, which is highly resistant to degradation, is like this.

Aluminum pots and pans have also been vilified some years ago, because research showed that some brain tissue from Alzheimer's victims had elevated levels of aluminum. Later research has consistently disproved any correlation between aluminum cookware and Alzheimer's.

Ancient Romans use cookware, goblets and cutlery made of lead. One theory is that the resultant brain damage from ingesting lead over time lead to the downfall of the Roman empire.

In recent times, various products made in the Third World have turned out to be dangerous. An unscrupulous cookware manufacturer in Mexico once made frying pans that included nuclear waste!

A number of toys have been made in China that included high levels of leachable forms of heavy metals. Pottery from many third world countries has poor glazing covering clays that contain arsenic and lead!

Some types of plastic are not suitable for a microwave, as they breakdown; whereas others are intended for microwave use.

Having said all this; if you wish to be as protective as possible of your family's health, sticking to tried and true cookware made of nontoxic metals, such as stainless steel; or glass (the heat resistant types!) that are manufactured in countries that have strict liability laws (such as the U.S. and E.U.) is the safest path!

Please note, all Teflon products have been free of PFOA since 2013.

If you own older Teflon-coated cookware, especially that which has a damaged cooking surface, such as flaking or peeling coating, those are the only ones which cook be of concern.

Teflon Cookware

While PFOA's are no longer used in Teflon-coated cookware, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroaklyl substances) still are. Here's the issue. while Teflon is considered safe and stable under normal use, at high temperatures ( above 500°F / 260°C), Teflon coatings  break down emitting toxic chemicals. These fumes are unhealthy and cause a syndrome called "polymer fume fever" or the Teflon flu.

The symptoms are flu-like chills, fever, headache, and/or body aches, which begin 4 to 10 hours after exposure. The conditions normally go away on their own in 12 to 48 hours.

The studies do show that it took extreme conditions (exposure to fumes from Teflon cookware heated to at least 730°F (390°C) for periods of at least 4 hours.

Tips for safely using Teflon cookware

  • Don’t preheat empty Teflon-coated pans.
  • Avoid using high heat settings
  • Turn on stove ventilation exhaust fans or open windows
  • Avoid scratching or damaging the Teflon coating by using wooden, silicone, or plastic utensils rather than metal
  • Hand wash pots and pans with a sponge rather than steel wool scouring pads
  • Replace when the cookware shows signs of scratches, peeling, flaking, and chipping

Alternatives to Teflon

There are many alternatives to Teflon coatings now, including many that are nonstick:

  1. Stoneware. Stoneware, like granite-coated iron, is nonstick when seasoned with cooking oil and still non-stick and scratch resistent.
  2. Ceramic cookware. This is almost as non-stick as teflon!
  3. Cast-iron cookware. After you season it with cooking oil, it is naturally nonstick and lasts lifetimes.  You can find people who are using their great-grandparents iron pots and pans.
  4. Silicone cookware. Silicone (essentially made from sand) is best for baking and utensils, since direct heat (like a flame in a gas stove or electric heating element can damage it.
  5. Stainless steel. Stainless steel is not nonstick, but it is durable and you do not need to worry about scratching.  And you can puit it in the dishwasher