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Tips on safe cookware

Canaries in the Kitchen: Tips on safe cookware

May 15, 2003

When heated, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces emits fumes that can kill birds and potentially sicken people. You can avoid exposures to the fumes from Teflon and other non-stick cookware by phasing out your home use of these products. If you can afford to replace your non-stick cookware now, do so.

Statistics reported by the Cookware Manufacturers Association indicate that 90 percent of all the aluminum cookware sold in the United States in 2001 was coated with non-stick chemicals like Teflon (Cooks Illustrated, September 2002). Chemicals and tiny, toxic Teflon particles released from heated Teflon kill household pet birds. At least four of these chemicals never break down in the environment, and some are widely found in human blood. Consumers concerned about the effects of Teflon on human health and the environment should consider these alternatives:

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a terrific alternative to a non-stick cooking surface. Most chefs agree that stainless steel browns foods better than non-stick surfaces. In their 2001 review of sauté pans, Cooks Illustrated, an independent publication, chose a stainless steel pan over otherwise identical non-stick models. They also recommended stainless steel pan roasters over non-stick.

Cast Iron
Cast iron remains a great alternative to non-stick cooking surfaces. Lodge, America’s oldest family-owned cookware manufacturer, refers to their cookware as “natural non-stick.” Cast iron can be pre-heated to temperatures that will brown meat and will withstand oven temperatures well above what is considered safe for non-stick pans. Cast iron is extremely durable and can now be purchased pre-seasoned, ready-to-use.

Other Cooking Surfaces
Because Teflon coated non-stick surfaces fail to brown foods there has been a push to find other “non-stick” cookware coating that will allow the use of higher temperatures and still clean up easily. Some examples include ceramic titanium and porcelain enameled cast iron. Both of these surfaces are very durable, better at browning foods than PTFE (Teflon) non-stick coatings, and are dishwasher safe. In her New York Times piece, "In Search of a Pan That Lets Cooks Forget About Teflon," Marian Burros recommends Le Creuset enameled cast iron pans with a matte black interior. Anodized aluminum is another alternative, but some people question its safety, citing evidence in some studies linking aluminum exposures to Alzheimers.