When to Worry About Non-stick Cookware

non-toxic without the nonsense Sep 15, 2021
Stack of non-stick frying pans with a focus on the top one showing a glimpse of red, displayed in a kitchenware shop with kitchen utensils hanging in the background.

I love cooking. 
I hate cleaning up. 


Thankfully after 9 years of marriage, Aki and I have a good rhythm for cooking and cleaning up. Typically whoever cooks, does minimal clean-up. That said, the fewer the pots and pans, the better. 

AND, if they clean up without a lot of scrubbing and sweating- BEST!! 

Over the years, I was on the search for the perfect non-stick skillet. 
One that would easily release a fried egg or pancakes without leaving behind a huge mess to clean up after the fact. 

I thought we found our match when we registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond for our dream cookware set. 

All-Clad, non-stick coated stainless steel. 

Goodness, was it beautiful. 

We were thrilled that Akira’s parents purchased it for our wedding gift. 


Interestingly, a few years ago, his mom came for a visit bearing a gift of 2 new pans for us to use. 

Ceramic coated.
She mentioned something about safety… 
But to be honest, I didn’t pay attention…

I didn’t even look into it until my diagnosis a year or two later. 


Much of the non-stick cookware we grew up with was coated with a material called Teflon, also known as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).  Compared to prior cookware surfaces, its non-reactive, non-stick, and easy to clean surface was a prayer answered to many housewives. 

Over the years, another chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was used in the manufacturing of Teflon non-stick cookware. This was discontinued in 2013 after increasing health concerns related to its use.  

As discussed on the prior blog on forever chemicals, PFOAs have been linked to thyroid disorders, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, cancers, infertility, and low birth weight. (link to prior blog) 


So now that Teflon is PFOA-free, should we worry? 


Generally, it is safe, but…
If cooking temperatures reach greater than 570F (300C), the Teflon coating will start to break down and those substances are released into the air. This can result in the development of a condition called polymer fume fever. 

Polymer fume fever, a.k.a. Teflon flu occurs 4-10 hours after exposure and lasts for a day or two. It results in chills, fever, headache, and body aches. In more extreme cases, lung damage has been associated with Teflon fumes. 

So what can we do?

I have gradually been replacing our non-stick cookware from our 2012 wedding with safer options including stainless steel, cast iron, and ceramic coated cookware. 

It is VERY important to replace any non-stick cookware that has scratches, peeling, flaking, or chipping of the surface. 


Money saving tips: 

  1. Consider Quality > Quantity. Most families use the same size pans over and over so you may consider which you really need rather than getting a large expensive set. 
  2. Check out the outlet stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Homegoods, and Le Creuset outlets. We have found our dutch oven (splurge/smartbuy), chicken braiser, and baking dishes at the Homegoods over the years. 
  3. Watch for seasonal sales especially around the holidays. 

If still using your non-stick pans, here are some tips for staying safer: 

  • Don’t preheat an empty pan. Add a little food, liquid, or high smoke point oil (avocado oil is my favorite) as soon as you turn on the burner. 
  • Avoid cooking on high heat. 
  • Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated with an exhaust fan or an open window. 
  • Uses wooden or silicone utensils (Spoon spatula/Omelet spatula/Silicone Flexible Turner). Metal utensils can scratch the surface. 
  • Hand wash your pots and pans with warm soapy water. Avoid using steel wool or scouring pads. 


Sajid M, Ilyas M. PTFE-coated non-stick cookware and toxicity concerns: a perspective. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Oct;24(30):23436-23440. DOI: 10.1007/s11356-017-0095-y. Epub 2017 Sep 14. PMID: 28913736.

Louis GM, Peterson CM, Chen Z, Hediger ML, Croughan MS, Sundaram R, Stanford JB, Fujimoto VY, Varner MW, Giudice LC, Kennedy A, Sun L, Wu Q, Kannan K. Perfluorochemicals and endometriosis: the ENDO study. Epidemiology. 2012 Nov;23(6):799-805. DOI: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31826cc0cf. PMID: 22992575; PMCID: PMC4122261.

Foresta C, Tescari S, Di Nisio A. Impact of perfluorochemicals on human health and reproduction: a male's perspective. J Endocrinol Invest. 2018 Jun;41(6):639-645. DOI: 10.1007/s40618-017-0790-z. Epub 2017 Nov 17. PMID: 29147953.

Meneguzzi A, Fava C, Castelli M, Minuz P. Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals and Cardiovascular Disease: Experimental and Epidemiological Evidence. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021 Jul 9;12:706352. DOI: 10.3389/fendo.2021.706352. PMID: 34305819; PMCID: PMC8298860.

Almeida NMS, Eken Y, Wilson AK. Binding of Per- and Polyfluoro-alkyl Substances to Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma. ACS Omega. 2021 Jun 4;6(23):15103-15114. DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.1c01304. PMID: 34151090; PMCID: PMC8210440.

Sinclair E, Kim SK, Akinleye HB, Kannan K. Quantitation of gas-phase perfluoroalkyl surfactants and fluorotelomer alcohols released from nonstick cookware and microwave popcorn bags. Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Feb 15;41(4):1180-5. DOI: 10.1021/es062377w. PMID: 17593716.


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