Ask the Eco Geek: Non-stick pots and pans

Photo: istockphoto.com/Emrah Turudu

What's the deal with non-stick pots and pans? Is safe to cook with them or not?
Sarmishta Subramanian

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) helps puts the slippery into non-stick pans. When non-stick was introduced to North American consumers in the early 1960s, it was heralded as a miraculous time-saver. Later, the health-conscious used them to trim the amount of cooking oils and butter they ate. But more than 40 years after non-stick cookware was invented, there remains uncertainty about the household staple.

As early as the mid-'70s, veterinarians warned that fumes emitted from the pans when heated above 350 degrees Celsius -- by leaving an empty pan on a burner, for instance -- are toxic to pet birds, potentially causing breathing difficulties and death. And because PFOA doesn't break down under normal conditions, it tends to accumulate in places like our bodies. Research released in 2002 by the 3M Company found the chemical in 96 percent of children tested.

The debate surrounding the safety of PFOA recently intensified following a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory panel report that found it a likely -- though not a certain -- cause of cancer in humans. Scratched cookware doesn't appear to be any more dangerous than freshly coated pans. Health Canada isn't warning consumers off the pans, but is reviewing the situation. Environmental advocates suggest iron or stainless cookware is your best bet, and regarding non-stick, while there's no definite answer, that pet bird may prove to be the canary in the coal mine. Read more about pots and pans in our article Non-stick vs uncoated cookware.

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