Nonstick pans never were our biggest source of exposure to this chemical, but it’s one less thing to worry about. Explore our digital archive back to 1845, including articles by more than 150 Nobel Prize winners.
“When pans are overheated, that PTFE coating begins to disintegrate,” Benton told Live Science. “Generally speaking, nonstick pans are not dangerous,” said Kyle Greenland, a professor of environmental health at Emory University in Atlanta.
For context: a Teflon-coated pan can reach 750 F (399 C) if left for eight minutes at high heat on a stove top, according to a 2017 article published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research. And at lower temperatures, Teflon coating still breaks down over time, according to a 1998 article published in the journal Polymer Degradation and Stability.
So we talked to numerous experts, looked at the major studies, and conducted our own lab tests at the Good Housekeeping Institute to find out: Just how safe are nonstick pots and pans? They're safe, says Robert L. Wolfe, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, as long as they're not overheated.
“At temperatures above 500ºF, the breakdown begins and smaller chemical fragments are released,” explains Kurunthachalam Kennan, Ph.D., an environmental toxicologist at the New York State Department of Health's Wadsworth Center. To find out how fast a nonstick pan can reach 500 °F (the point at which its coating can start to decompose), the Good Housekeeping Institute put three pieces of nonstick cookware to the test: a cheap, lightweight pan (weighing just 1 lb., 3 oz.
At 680° F, Teflon releases at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit watchdog organization. “However, even if those gases are formed, the odds that you're going to breathe enough of them to be sick are low,” says Wolfe, a point corroborated by several of the experts we interviewed.
Also, of less concern than previously believed: the danger of nonstick pans exposing the family to FOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). A chemical used to manufacture the fluoropolymers that make up nonstick cookware's coating, FOA is associated with tumors and developmental problems in animals, and experts are concerned about its possible effects on humans.
Walmart.coming 2004, DuPont agreed to pay up to $343 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that FOA, used in the manufacture of Teflon at a certain plant, had contaminated drinking water nearby. In 2007, a study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found an association between FOA exposure and small decreases in head circumference and body weight in infants (except those born by cesarean section).
The EPA has now reached an agreement with eight companies, including DuPont, to phase out the use of FOA completely. Also, worth mentioning is that sources of FOA are everywhere, not just in nonstick pans made before 2015: In microwave-popcorn bags, fast-food packaging, shampoo, carpeting, and clothing.
The FDA has also tested nonstick pans to evaluate the danger of FOA exposure to humans. “What we found was that the manufacturing process used to make those pans drives off the FOA,” says Honigfort, meaning that the chemical evaporates.
(DuPont maintains, however, that Teflon does not pose any health risks, and that its guideline is simply meant to maximize the life of the product.) To play it safe, set your knob to medium or low and don't place your nonstick cookware over so-called power burners (anything above 12,000 BTU's on a gas stove or 2,400 watts on an electric range), because those burners are intended for tasks like boiling a large pot of water quickly.
Newer products may be harder to chip, “because the adhesion between the pan and the nonstick coating is better,” says Honigfort. Still, if pans do chip or flake, they may be more likely to release toxic compounds, says Kennan of the New York State Department of Health.
To prevent scratching, use wooden spoons to stir food, avoid steel wool, and don't stack these pans. Betty Gold, Good Housekeeping Institute Senior Editor & Product Analyst, Kitchen Appliances & Technology Lab Betty Gold earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Studies and Nutrition from New York University, and prior to joining Good Housekeeping, she worked with the James Beard Foundation and other leading food media brands like Bon Appétit, Food Network Magazine, and The Martha Stewart Show.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. Many home cooks hear warnings about Teflon and wonder if nonstick pans are truly safe to use.
TODAY Food asked culinary experts to weigh in on the truth about nonstick cookware, how best to use it and how to maintain it. According to Lisa McManus, executive testing and tasting editor for America’s Test Kitchen, a nonstick pan is typically made of aluminum and then is either coated with polytetrafloroethylene, or PTFE (Teflon is a name brand of this coating) or has ceramic applied to the pan with no PTFE.
The problem comes when Teflon is heated above 600 degrees, at which point it releases fumes that are potentially dangerous. Using a harder spatula or any type of metal will increase the likelihood of scratches or scrapes.
There are several foods and dishes for which they are ideal, especially those that are delicate and more prone to breaking when placing a spatula underneath. None of us would get through our madhouse brunch services without them!” Christina Ranchers, executive chef of California eateries Miss B’s Coconut Club and Park 101, told TODAY Food.
ShutterstockAndy Weiss, executive chef of The Smoking Gun in San Diego, says he loves to use nonstick pans for cooking fish, especially skin-on fish, and advises using little, if any, oil when cooking with the pans. McManus added that they are also great for stir fry to keep the “fond,” or brown bits of residue from cooking meats and vegetables, from sticking to the pan and burning.
To keep a nonstick pan in good working condition as long as possible, McManus said to avoid using Pam cooking spray, which can gum up the surface and add unnecessary flavor. AmazonS he suggested keeping it under $100 and recommended the Ox 12-inch open frying pan.
Other features to consider include finding a solid handle that provides a good grip, and avoiding anything too soft or squishy that could cause you to drop the pan. To give the pan a bit more life, McManus said to try warming it, empty, overheat for about 30 seconds and then remove, rub with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, wipe it with a paper towel and then you're ready to get cooking.