Monday, March 29, 2010

A few chemicals with your pancakes?

I made pancakes the other morning for my fiancee and I. They were great and we used a Teflon coated pan from IKEA to cook them in.  Several weeks ago, a friend of mine Annie Bourgault of Nurturing Motherhood asked Andreas about what kind of pan was the best to use for cooking (he's a chef) and the conversation turned into a talk about Teflon. 

I stopped to reflect why I had never questioned myself before about Teflon? Was it really so bad? What kinds of chemicals did we just ingest along with our yummy pancakes?

So I have done a little research and wanted to share it with you.

This is from a study done by the Environmental Working Group about the chemical releases from heating a pan coated with Teflon. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE FULL SIZE)


The Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported that using the Teflon coated pans didn't present a significant health risk so long as you kept the temperature down. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fined Teflon maker DuPont $16.5 million for two decades' worth of covering up company studies that showed it was polluting drinking water.  This is in addition to settling a $107 Million class action lawsuit filed by residents living near the West Virginia plant who claimed that the chemical [PFOA - see below] had contaminated local waters.

Useful Information:
  • Teflon: Teflon is a brand name, it is not a single chemical. Teflon can refer to PTFE or to a fluorotelomer or to any number of perfluorochemicals. Perfluorochemicals are often termed "Teflon" chemicals or as having "Teflon" chemistry.
  •  PTFE: Polytetrafluoroetheylene. Polymer used for cookware and other non-stick applications. Brand names include Teflon and Silverstone. A physically expanded form of PTFE is used to make Gore-Tex. PFOA is an ingredient in the manufacture of PTFE.  PTFE fluoropolymer resin is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most slippery substance.
  • PFOA: Perfluorooctanoic acid. Breakdown product of fluorotelomers and backbone of many DuPont products. Also used as a surfactant to produce PTFE, the Teflon in pans. Sometimes called C8.
  • C8, et al: The range of chemicals that are identical to PFOA but with carbon backbones of varying length. PFOA/C8 has 8 carbons, C7 has 7, and so on. These are breakdown products of fluorotelomers.
An important consideration is the chemical PFOA used to make Teflon chemicals is considered a persistent, bio-accumulative man-made compound. This means that it NEVER breaks down because nature isn't able to "digest or metabolise" it in its own natural systems. By using chemicals like this, we are continually undermining the long-term health of the planet - including our families.

I'll let you make up your mind about how safe these pans are and if you feel you'd like to use an alternative, Planet Green has a great article that will help you with your decision making process.

Many families are opting for a different non-stick pan option such as:

Inert, Non-Reactive Cookware -- A Superior Choice
Enamel is actually a fused glass surface. Brands: Le Creuset and Chantal.
Will last a lifetime. Buy quality as once enamel is chipped the underlying metal will react with food.

Titanium is nonreactive and lightweight but a poor heat conductor. Typically labeled as aluminum cookware that has a fused ceramic-titanium, nonstick coating. This cookware is expensive, but durable and a healthful, nonreactive choice.

Glass coffee pots and casserole dishes are inert and affordable. Favor glass containers for storing food.

Bamboo steamers and paddles as well as wooden spoons, chopsticks and crockery are non-reactive and modestly priced.

Earthenware and ceramic are inert. They emit a far-infrared heat, the most effective and beneficial heat for cooking. Ceramic casseroles and pie pans are available from your local potter. (Note: antique ceramic or earthenware pots may contain lead; do not use without testing. To test for lead, purchase a lead test kit for $10 at a hardware store.)

Paper Goods are, in some applications, effective. Line reactive aluminum cookie sheets or muffin tins with parchment paper or paper muffin cups. And for food storage, as is practical, favor waxed or butcher paper over plastic wrap or bags.

Silicone cookware is inert, FDA approved and safe up to 428 degrees F. If heated above its safe range, silicone melts but doesn’t outgas toxic vapors. Silicone is a synthetic rubber now made into baking pans, baking sheets, muffin tins, spatulas, ice cube trays, molds, rolling pins and more. It is the only non-reactive, non-stick material. The advantages of silicone include heat resistance (below 428 degrees), flexibility, the fact that it can go directly from the oven or microwave into the refrigerator or freezer and that it is generally easy to clean.

Moderately Reactive Cookware -- A Good Choice
Stainless steel is the least reactive metal, and for many people, the most versatile and healthful cookware option. Of the various weights, heavy-gauge stainless or surgical steel is superior. It makes an acceptable set of basic pots, pans and bake ware. Remove food from metal as soon as it is cooked to minimize the food from developing a metallic taste. Once stainless steel has been scratched, through normal scouring, the leaching of metallic ions is more noticeable. Better yet, don't scour stainless cookware. When you've burned something onto the pot, cover the damage with baking soda or a strong detergent and let it rest for a day. The soda will "lift" off the scoarched food.

Carbon steel is inexpensive and is ideal for a wok or sauté pan because it rapidly conveys heat. To prevent rusting, carbon steel must be thoroughly dry when not in use.

Cast iron pots are good for quick breads, pancakes and crêpes and for sautéing vegetables. Do not, however, cook soups, liquids or acid foods in cast iron, as these foods leach harsh-tasting iron from the pot. Although a soup cooked in cast iron becomes iron-enriched, it’s not a bioavailable form of iron, and is therefore undesirable.
Source: Rebecca Wood

Resources for further reading:
Environmental Working Group's 4 years worth of research on Teflon chemicals
Environmental Working Group's Perfluorchemical Dictionary (reference for some facts above)
NY Times Article about EPA fining Dupont
DuPont Fluoro Products Homepage
CBC News Report on Non-Stick Cookware Largely Safe
Environmental Protection Agency Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Fluorinated Telomers

Tracy Lydiatt  - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

p.s. Remember you can do this, it all starts with a first step and it will last a lifetime

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