Nobody wants to deal with stuck on food in our cookware, but what is the cost of the convenience of non-stick pans? What do you really know about your non-stick skillet? Could the release of dangerous fumes be an unintended result to heating your skillet to high temperatures…for example when frying?
In 2006, the EPA asked manufacturers of products such as Teflon-coated non-stick cookware, microwave popcorn bags, waterproof clothing and many other products to voluntarily phase out the use of a chemical called perflurooctanic acid (PFOA) by 2015. While ongoing studies have not been conclusive so far, they do strongly suggest that when enough PFOA builds up in the body, it can cause cancer, liver damage, growth defects, immune-system damage, and death in laboratory animals.
A safer alternative.
One affordable and low maintenance alternative to the soon to be defunct Teflon-coated pan is ceramic cookware. There are a number on the market that are affordable, seem to handle normal cooking well, and clean up with minimal effort. The ceramic finish that makes cleanup a breeze may also be longer lasting than traditional non-stick coatings, which have a lower threshold for heat-based decay. However, it is recommended that owners remember to use soft utensils made of wood, plastic, or silicone to avoid damaging the cooking surface.
When ceramics are cadmium and lead-free, as they are in virtually all, reputable brands of ceramic cookware, they’re an inert substance that won’t poison you (or wildlife) as time goes on. And while there are other safe alternatives to traditional non-stick, such as stainless-steel and anodized aluminum cookware, they’re not as easy to clean and are often more expensive than ceramics.
The canary in the kitchen.
When heated to a high temperature the fumes emitted from non-stick pans coated with Teflon or other products using PFOA in the manufacturing process, have been known to kill birds such as canaries. Canaries are highly sensitive to toxic substances, and were formerly used in coalmines as monitors of toxic gases undetectable by humans.
Stuck with non-stick pans.
So what do you do with your old non-stick pans when you transition to ceramic or other non-PFOA alternatives? If you don’t want to be responsible for killing innocent birds if the pans are eventually melted down, just stick them in the back of the cabinet with the other residents of the “island of missfit cookware,” or turn them into a creative wall art or dish garden. At least for now until we have a better solution, it’s best not to unleash them on the environment.