Any parent who has scrambled an egg knows how difficult cleaning the pan can be. There is something about dried, caked on eggs that is incredibly hard to clean off, and can require hours of soaking and scrubbing. Even then, it never seems to get completely clean.
The advent of non-stick cookware certainly changed all that. These products seemed like a gift from science that suddenly changed our lives. Not only was cleaning much easier, but in most instances, we didn't even need to use oil.
Well, sometimes these miracles of science can turn from a blessing into a curse. There are countless examples of drugs and chemicals that have hidden consequences which come to light long after the public has embraced them.
Can non-stick cookware can be added to this list? I wonder if these products designed to make our lives easier may come at a price, and here's why:
- The chemicals in non-stick cookware were not designed for human consumption. — Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) were originally manufactured for industrial purposes, but in an effort to find a commercial application, they were applied to cookware as part of the miracle of science designed to make people's lives easier.
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is a type of PFC, is used in making non-stick cookware and has been implicated in causing birth defects in laboratory animals. — The EPA is urging companies to eliminate it by 2015.
- A recent report on NBCNews.com cites studies by the FDA and CDC that suggest that prenatal exposure to PFCs may cause problems in children, including low birth weight, decreased head circumference, as well as ADHD. — These concerns mirror findings in animal studies.
- Big chemical companies don't want you to know some of the information about cooking products. — Sound a bit too much like conspiracy theory? Consider this: the article on NBCNews.com also reveals how the chemical lobby has succeeded in delaying and potentially preventing the publication of these findings, despite the fact that they were funded by your taxpayers dollars. The actual article is available on the EPA website.
- PFCs never break down. — When these compounds enter into the environment, they never leave. Do you really want something like this circulating in your or your children's bodies?
- Non-stick cookware can kill birds. — Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is an inert compound used in non-stick cookware. When it is heated above 660 degrees (a temperature easily reached if a pan is left on the stove) PTFE releases toxic fumes that are used in chemical weapons. These fumes will kill birds (this is not disputed by the manufacturers) and cause flu-like symptoms in people.
- PFCs are everywhere. — Population studies have found that PFCs can be detected in the blood of as much as 95% of the general population. In addition to non-stick cookware, they are used to protect clothes and furniture from water and stains.
- Toxins from the cookware can be transferred to your child in breast milk. — PFCs have been detected in breast milk. Do you really want to expose your unborn child to these chemicals?
Full disclosure: there has not been any definitive proof that PFCs cause health problems, but again, the evidence against it is compelling and continues to grow. So, it pays to be informed. Remember that, not too long ago, Big Tobacco vehemently denied that cigarettes were addictive or unhealthy.
Instead of non-stick pans, consider other options for your family. A well-seasoned cast iron pan can have some non-stick qualities, and though it may be a bit more work to clean, isn't the extra effort worth the peace of mind? Cast iron is incredibly durable and will last forever.
Other cook ware options to consider
Whatever you do, when it involves the health and welfare of your family, make an informed choice.
If you choose to use Teflon or other non-stick pans, remember not to heat them too high, and use non-metal cooking utensils so as to minimize the amount of scratching and chipping that occurs. For resources on caring for cast iron cook ware, check out Real Simple's Cleaning and Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet.