If Teflon is on your list of possibilities for new cookware, understanding what it is and if it’s safe can help with your decision making. First, it’s important to understand that Teflon has been around since 1938.
First discovered by DuPont, Telfon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) which is it’s proper name, is a synthetic compound used in many applications. The company Kinetic Chemicals gave PTFE the brand name Teflon in 1945.
Teflon, then, is the brand name product of PTFE. Due to its versatility, it is used in everything from clothing to lubricating heavy machinery to medical supplies and plumbers tape to lawn furniture and coating metal to cookware. PTFE has a high melting point (327 degrees C or 620 degrees F), is water resistant and non-reactive.
The real question is where is PTFE not used. So, getting back to is it safe on cookware. According to the American Cancer Association, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, is another man-made chemical that was used in the Teflon-making process. However, it burned off during the process and was not present in significant amounts in the final products.
They say PFOA has the potential to be a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. PFOA was used in the Teflon-making process in the U.S. up until 2013.
Prior to this, the health concern was not from Teflon itself, but from PFOA, a human-made chemical. While there is some research that suggests a link between PFOA and cancer, there are no proven links between Teflon and cancer.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported “that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants, cancer (testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol changes).”
When it comes to cookware, medical professionals explain that for the most part, Teflon is safe, however, inhaling the fumes when pans are heated at high temperatures can be toxic and lead to polymer fume fever, also known as the Teflon flu.
Polymer fume fever will give you flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, headache and body aches that last for 12 to 48 hours.
To safely use Teflon for cooking, they suggest not heating an empty pan, which can heat quickly and release polymer fumes. Also, avoid cooking on high heat, ventilate your kitchen when using Teflon and use non-metal utensils on the cookware.
Once Teflon cookware becomes scratched, small particles can break free of the pots and pans and be consumed, but should pass through without any problems. You may want to consider replacing those scratched Teflon pans with new ones.