I was shopping for some cookware recently and every single item was covered in a non-stick coating. There wasn’t a bit of bare metal to be seen, which frustrated me greatly as whenever I see non-stick coatings on pots and pans, I immediately think “teflon” and all the health and environmental issues associated with it.
As mentioned in my article from 2006 on toxic non-stick cookware, most non-stick pan coatings at that point were usually made with a substance called Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).
PTFE starts to break down at temperatures above 260C and as it does so, releases toxic chemicals. Among these may be Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA); which is used in the production of PTFE.
PFOA is a persistent organic pollutant that has been building up in our environment, causing bioaccumulation in food chains. PFOA has been linked to developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, and carcinogenicity in test animals
But overheating isn’t the only way this chemical is released. The coating on an old non-stick saucepan I have became so thin in parts I could see the metal underneath. The coating wasn’t magically spirited away by the pixies never to be seen again – it wound up down the sink drain and out into waterways – and in me.
One of the very unfortunate aspects of some older non-stick coated products is that once they are made, that’s it – there is no real way to get rid of the threat the coatings pose.
With that in mind, I wound up buying a non-coated stainless steel cookware set online instead – and that set should hopefully outlast me. I love stainless steel products for their durability and robust nature; and even if a product should break or wear out, it can be recycled.
However, perhaps I disregarded non-stick coatings a little too quickly as it appears they have come a long way.
As I discovered (*after* buying my pans of course), the use of PTFE and PFOA in cookware has been on the way out for the last few years; although some manufacturers appear to be stubbornly hanging on.
Newer non-stick coatings include:
Thermolon – a patented mineral polymer based on silicon oxide
Ecolon – a ceramic-glass reinforced Nylon 6
Greblon – another ceramic coating
These “ceramic” coatings are made via a process call “sol-gel”. I’ve read a little on the process and to be quite honest, I still don’t totally understand how it works; only that involves tiny mineral particles suspended in a solution that is baked on to the cookware and that the final product is far more human and environmentally friendly than coatings using PTFE/PFOA.
The production of the new generation of coatings is also more eco-friendly in that the items are baked in low-temperature kilns to fix the coating.
All of the coatings mentioned above are able to withstand cooking temperatures of at least 400 degrees Celsius (around 750F).
However, when shopping for non-stick cookware; don’t assume that whatever you’re examining uses new generation coatings. While the use of PFOA is being phased out, it’s my understanding cookware containing these chemicals are still on sale in most countries and even non-PFOA PFTE is a concern; so always enquire as to the nature of the coating.