There is an article in the November 2007 issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine titled, “Nervous About Nonstick?” It is a no nonsense article focused on settling the questions about the safety of nonstick pans. I couldn’t find it online to link so here is a summary of the key points:
The Good Housekeeping Research Institute with the assistance of Robert L. Wolke, Ph.D., professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist at the New York State Department of Health, tested and analyzed results.
The article addresses the common fears attached to nonstick cookware and debunks some, labeling the cookware as safe with conditions.
When nonstick surfaces reach a temperature exceeding 500 F., the nonstick surface begins to break down and starts releasing chemical compounds. When the surface temperature reaches 660 F., gases are released which can cause flu like symptoms in humans. These gases can be fatal to small birds. At 680 F., toxic gases are released, but in such small quantities as to be harmless
Bits of nonstick coating that may flake off a pan surface are harmless if ingested. They simply pass through your body.
PFOA, a chemical known to cause tumors and developmental defects in animals (there is no proven harmful effect on humans) is used in the manufacturing process but is not present in the finished product. PFOA is present in other products such as microwave popcorn bags, fast food containers, shampoos, carpeting and clothing.
The article offers six steps to cooking safely with nonstick cookware:
- Never preheat an empty pan. The temperature can exceed safe levels in as little as two minutes in pans made with thinner materials.
- Don’t cook on high heat. Set your burner to medium and cook at that level. This is also the manufacturer’s recommendation.
- Ventilate the kitchen. Turn on your exhaust fans.
- Don’t broil or sear meats. These cooking methods call for higher heat than is safe for nonstick cookware. Use a different type of pan.
- Buy heavier nonstick pans. Thicker metal pans take longer to reach and exceed dangerous temperature levels so you have a margin for error if you forget a pan on the burner.
- Don’t continue to cook with pans that have damaged nonstick coatings. Use wood or plastic utensils to prolong the life of the surface.
My take from this article is that nonstick pans are fine to use and you don’t have to avoid them “just to be on the safe side”. Overheating should not be a problem as long as you don’t leave an empty pan on a burner going full blast and walk away.