The non-stick frying pan has been a staple in the kitchen for decades, but just how safe is it? And what should you use instead?
Global chemical giant DuPont has been making Teflon since the 1930s, but in 2004, the US Environmental Protection Agency discovered a chemical used in the production of Teflon that potentially causes cancer.
The chemical is one that many Australians are all too familiar with - perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA - which has been at the centre of a contamination scare at Defence bases around the country.
PFOA is used to make compounds called fluoropolymers, which are then turned into products like Teflon, water-repellent coatings like Scotchgard, and even clothing, furniture and packaged food containers.
While there is no direct evidence that PFOA is harmful to humans, it has been shown to cause cancer, liver damage, growth defects, infertility and immune-system damage in laboratory animals. Based on this evidence, an EPA advisory board of 17 scientists unanimously recommended PFOA be labelled a ‘likely carcinogen’ in humans.
Should I throw out my non-stick fry pan?
While most of the PFOA is burnt off in the manufacturing process of Teflon, there is still a risk that these pans can release a range of toxins when used at high temperatures, including chemicals like trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) and phosgene. These chemicals are known to be poisonous to birds, and can induce a ‘Teflon flu’ in humans, with symptoms of headaches, chills, backaches and fever.
Thankfully, there are much safer options now available on the market.
Cast Iron skillets are arguably one of the safest pans you can find. It doesn’t leach any toxic chemicals into your food. The only thing it can release is iron, which can actually be a good thing, since many of us are deficient!
Stainless Steel is considered very safe and reasonably priced, but it does need a little oil to reduce sticking.
Ceramic cookware offers the non-stick properties without the peeling, flaking surface of Teflon. They are easy to clean and are very popular at the moment, but are expensive.
Glass or stoneware are the best for baking, but you will need to take extra care to reduce sticking.
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