Is nonstick cookware really safe

Is nonstick cookware really safe? That depends, according to experts

Cookware sales totaled $2.7 billion in 2021, and more than half of it — $1.8 billion — was nonstick cookware, according to The NPD Group. It makes sense since nonstick cookware provides numerous important benefits, such as simple cleaning, less food clinging to the surface, and the ability to cook with less oil or butter. Still, many customers have worried about the safety of nonstick cookware and hazardous chemical emissions. So we spoke to various experts, looked at the important papers, and did our own lab tests at the Good Housekeeping Institute to find out: Are nonstick pots and pans safe?

In a word, yeah. As a sweeping statement, nonstick pans are safe as long as they’re not overheated, says Nicole Papantoniou, head of the Kitchen Appliances and Culinary Innovations Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. She also recommended caring for them properly and dumping them if they scrape or show signs of wear to reduce the danger of the coating flaking into your meal and to prevent rusting in exposed places.

But cooking using broken pans or not following the manufacturer’s recommendations for usage might raise the danger of releasing harmful chemicals in pans that were built with PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). If you use contemporary nonstick pans as designed, they will be safe. And not all nonstick cookware includes PFAS, which are the basis of the health issues; our ceramic nonstick selection, for example, is PFA-, PFOA-, cadmium-, and lead-free. But when nonstick cookware that is produced with PFAS reaches temperatures exceeding 500˚F, the coating might begin to break down at the molecular level. This breakdown may cause certain particles and gases (that have been related to certain malignancies) to be emitted.

PFOA and nonstick cookware

One big area of worry for consumers has been PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a chemical used in the creation of various nonstick cookware coatings, notably Teflon (which is the brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE) (which is the brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE). PFOA has been related to cancers and developmental difficulties in animals, and researchers voiced worries about its probable consequences on people. The good news is that it has not been created in the United States since 2015. However, Teflon is still manufactured in other countries, PFOA is highly persistent in nature and prior contaminations may still pose environmental health problems.

In 2004, DuPont agreed to pay up to $343 million to resolve a lawsuit claiming that PFOA, used in the manufacturing of Teflon at a single factory, had polluted drinking water nearby. In 2006, the EPA struck a stewardship program agreement with eight corporations, including DuPont, to phase down the use of PFOA altogether, achieving that 2015 cutoff date.

But the relationship between Teflon and these incidents has added to the ongoing suspicions. “There’s a whole chemical set of molecules that will come off when Teflon is heated high enough to disintegrate,” said Robert L. Wolke, Ph.D., author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. “Many of them are fluorine-containing compounds, which as a class are typically hazardous.” But fluoropolymers, the chemicals from which these poisonous substances emerge, are a key element of the coating formula — and the precise reason why foods don’t attach to nonstick.

At extremely high temperatures — 660°F and higher — pans may more severely dissolve, generating fumes powerful enough to produce polymer-fume fever, a transient flu-like disease defined by chills, headache, and fever. (The gases won’t harm you — but they may kill pet birds, whose respiratory systems are more vulnerable.)

At 680°F, Teflon produces at least six harmful chemicals, including two carcinogens, according to research by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit watchdog group. “However, even if those gases are generated, the chances that you’re going to breathe enough of them to get unwell are minimal,” said Wolke, a statement supported by numerous of the specialists we interviewed.

How long does it take for a nonstick pan to overheat?

Because nonstick cookware is typically used for delicate foods prone to sticking, such as eggs or fish, the cooking won’t need temperatures beyond 500°F – and definitely not over 680°F. But if you wanted to sear a steak and cook it in the oven, would you be at risk?

The specialists at the Good Housekeeping Institute sought to find out how fast a nonstick pan may reach 500°F (the threshold at which its coating might start to break down) (the point at which its coating can start to decompose). We put three pieces of nonstick cookware to the test: a cheap, lightweight pan (weighing only 1 lb., 3 oz.); a midweight pan (2 lbs., 1 oz.); and a high-end, heavier pan (2 lbs., 9 oz). (2 lbs., 9 oz.).

We cooked five foods at varying temperatures using a burner that’s common in most houses. Even we were startled by the results: An empty lightweight pan at high heat hit 500˚F in less than 2 minutes; a heavyweight pan used to fry burgers blasted over 575˚F in 8.5 minutes.

Safe for Nonstick:

  • Scrambled eggs 218° F: Cooked on medium for 3 minutes in a lightweight pan
  • Chicken & pepper stir-fry 318° F: Cooked on high for 5 1/4 minutes in a lightweight pan
  • Bacon 465° F: Cooked on high for 5 1/2 minutes in a medium-weight pan
  • Risky for Nonstick:
  • Empty pan warmed 507° F: Heated on high for 1 3/4 minutes in a lightweight pan
  • Pan warmed with 2 Tbsp. oil 514° F: Heated on high for 2 1/2 minutes in a lightweight pan
  • Hamburgers 577° F: Cooked on high for 8 1/2 minutes in a heavyweight pan
  • Steak 656° F: Cooked on high for 10 minutes in a lightweight pan

How to securely use nonstick cookware

You may safely cook using nonstick pots and pans as long as you follow simple measures. First and foremost, read the manufacturer’s guidelines, advises Fran Groesbeck, general director of The Cookware and Bakeware Alliance: “If you follow the use and care directions, the product will be safe.”

In addition, be cautious of what you’re preparing. Any item that cooks rapidly over low or medium heat (such as fish, grilled cheese, or fried eggs) and any foods that cover much of the pan’s surface (such as scrambled eggs, pancakes, or warmed-up leftovers), which brings down the pan’s temperature, are unlikely to overheat your pan. And many other forms of cooking are safe as well.

While our experts can’t advocate eating food cooked in a pan that has been overheated or incorrectly cared for, the FDA states that for pans made with PFAS, the coatings normally contain “a small quantity of PFAS capable of transferring to food.” The government stated that nonstick cookware coating is an allowed application of PFAS in contact with food.

In our lab testing, the only meal prep that achieved a nonstick pan temperature above 600ºF in less than 10 minutes was steak in a lightweight pan. But to be careful, keep these points in mind:

  • Never preheat an empty pan. In our testing, each of the three empty nonstick pans we heated on high achieved temperatures over 500˚F in less than 5 minutes — and the cheapest, most lightweight pan got there in just 2 minutes. Even pans with oil in them may be troublesome; our cheapest pan rocketed to hotter than 500˚F in 2.5 minutes.
  • Don’t cook on high heat. Most producers of nonstick cookware, including DuPont, now warn users not to go beyond medium. (DuPont claims that Teflon does not offer any health hazards and that their guidance is just aimed to optimize the life of the product.) To play things safe, set your knob to medium or low, and don’t put your nonstick cookware over so-called power burners (anything over 12,000 BTUs on a gas stove or 2,400 watts on an electric range), since such burners are meant for jobs like boiling a big pot of water rapidly.
  • Ventilate your kitchen. When cooking, switch on the exhaust fan to assist take away any fumes.
  • Don’t broil or grill meats. Those approaches need temperatures exceeding what nonstick can normally manage.
  • Choose a heavier nonstick pan. Lightweight pans often heat up quickest, so invest in heavier-weight cookware. It’s worth the additional money.
  • Consider ceramic coatings. Ceramic is a newer alternative in nonstick cookware that is a fantastic choice if you want to avoid PFOA and PTFE. It’s inherently stick-resistant and can tolerate considerably greater temperatures than standard nonstick cookware. “Ceramic is a terrific avenue for pans with color and pattern, and it resists staining,” explains Groesbeck. “But it won’t last as long as PTFE and shouldn’t go in the dishwasher.” Another item to note: Some ceramic coatings are manufactured with PFAS so keep an eye out for that while purchasing if that’s important to you.
  • Avoid chipping or ruining the pan. We’ve all been taught not to use metal utensils on nonstick cookware. Newer goods may be tougher to chip, “because the adhesion between the pan and the nonstick coating is greater,” says Paul Honigfort, Ph.D., a consumer safety inspector with the Food and Drug Administration. But if pans do crack or flake, they may be more prone to release harmful substances. To prevent scratches, use wooden or silicone implements to stir or flip food, avoid steel wool, and don’t stack the pans while storing. (If you do stack the pans, place a paper towel liner between them.) Some experts suggest upgrading your nonstick cookware every couple of years. If the pan is damaged, toss it away.


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