Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A NON-STICK MESS: FINDING AN ALTERNATIVE TO TEFLON PANS





One of my readers recently asked me what I thought about the new non-stick technology that is promising to replace Teflon in the cooking world. 

Teflon pans are usually one of the first things I suggest you get rid of at home.... But they are also one of the hardest things to get people to stop using! 

I know people who cook their (expensive) organic food in Teflon pans, not realizing that they are pretty much eating up a toxic meals thanks to the Teflon from their pans.

Why is it so hard to stop using nonstick Teflon pans? Well, the reality is that they work really well and the alternative (at first) is usually very messy and sticky! I get it.... and would probably let it slide and leave my friends or clients with their teflon pans, since my philosophy is to make small changes in your life and not to live in a nontoxic bubble, BUT here is the thing; teflon is really bad. So bad that the chemical company that makes it has been forced to "eliminate the need to make, buy or use PFOA by 2015." 


WHAT AND WHERE IS TEFLON FOUND
When talking about the dangers of Teflon, we are referring to the chemical that gives it its slippery non-stick property;  Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).   PFOA is present in trace amounts in up to 98% of Americans.  It is not only used in Teflon coated non-stick pans but also in products that claim to be stain and grease proof like furniture, carpet, clothing and food packaging (like Stainmaster fabric protection). 



DANGERS OF PFOA

  • In humans it is a classified likely carcinogen.
  • It has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. 
  • Recent studies have also suggested that prenatal exposure to perfluorinated chemicals may affect the immune system in early childhood.
  • The most extensive study of PFOA's impact on people, the 69,000 - person  C8 Health Project carried out by an independent panel of academic scientists and paid for by DuPont, has found that the chemical decreases levels of reproductive hormones; weakened immune response among other findings.  

As the chemical company that produces Teflon, DuPont, like to point out, Teflon is safe when used as directed. That means heating the pan at low or medium low heat. 
Unfortunately, it turns out that when Teflon is heated to over 600° ( medium high or high setting on most stovetops) the coating can break down and release PFOA. Also unfortunate is that most nonstick pans reach temperatures higher that 600 after just 5 minutes of high heat.... What most people would consider preheating. This means that by the time food is placed on the pan PFOA is on the loose and not only are you breathing it in but its entering the food you will be serving for dinner. 


ALTERNATIVES TO TEFLON NON-STICK PANS
  • Stainless steel pans
The safest alternative is to invest in good stainless steel pans. What many stainless steel pan users complain about (especially my husband!) is that their food sticks to their stainless steel pans and makes a mess. The truth is that, it might take a bit of practice, but there are ways to avoid having your food stick. A well coated stainless steel pan will not stick. The secret is to heat a bit of oil or butter and coat the entire pan. Then wait for it to warm up..... If you place your uncooked food or batter in the pan before the oil or butter has heated up thoroughly your food will stick, if you wait too long and over heat the pan it will also stick.....you need to practice a bit to figure out the right temperature, and when you do your food will not stick.  Stainless steel pans are hands down the best alternative : safe non- toxic meals.
  • Cast Iron
When properly seasoned, cast iron is virtually non-stick. 
Le Creuset is a well known brand.  They sell some great 
products but there have been reports that their red, 
yellow and orange colored pans can contain lead in the exterior paint.
Best to avoid these.   
 

  • Greenpan
This new technology comes to us from Belgium. The manufacturer claims that the new product is not toxic, even when heated at very high temperatures ( Teflons main problem was that when heated at high temperature it became toxic).  In theory, it seems like a very good alternative. The only word of caution is that the product has not really been tested by outside sources or for long term use. My recomendation? If you really want a non-stick pan ... This is your safe new alternative, however try not to use it every single day for every single meal. Because it has not been tested, perhaps just use it when you are cooking something that promises to be super messy ( spanish omlet, pancakes etc) 

WHAT TO DO WITH THE TEFLON THAT I HAVE AT HOME 
Should you toss your Teflon pans? Well, if you can afford a new stainless steel cooking set definitely do. If you will continue to use them constantly as long as you have them in your house, then toss them too. But if you can control your usage and just can't bring yourself to throw them all out, here are some tips 
  1. - Keep them in a very inconvenient place ... I admittedly have one Teflon pan and it is at the very back and bottom of my pan drawer. To get to it I need to move just about every single heavy stainless steel pan I have ...which is such a pain that we never use it, nor does my husband!
  2. - If you have to use Teflon ( for example in a panini press or even a pan) then make sure you do not use high heat for cooking. Keep it at medium/medium low heat. Teflon releases toxic fumes at high heat
  3. - If your Teflon pan has any scratches throw it away immediately. Sorry there is no way around it... Its just not safe
  4. - Do not cook your children's food in Teflon pans. Even if you do not want to invest in an entire new stainless steel pan set ( yes, this can be very expensive), buy at least one stainless steel sauce or frying pan where you can cook and heat up your munchkins food.... 
  5. - Avoid microwave popcorn and instead choose air popped popcorn since the bag's liner contains PFOA, which, when microwaved, clings on to the popcorn


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