Friday, January 27, 2012

Cooking without Teflon - guest post by Jakob Barry

Hey friends. I'd like you to welcome Jakob Barry to Craving Fresh today. He's been following along since I posted about the doll's house I made for Lily, and he recently asked if he could guest post about Teflon, since it's more of a hazard than most people realise.


When it comes to cooking, Teflon non-stick pots and pans are something most of us love to use because of how easy it is to prepare a meal and clean up with them. However, a number of studies over the past twenty years have revealed this trouble-free process comes with a heavy price, as Teflon is actually toxic.

The main issue at hand is a host of chemicals that are released into the air when a pot made from Teflon reaches various temperatures.

For example, one of the substances that appears to be causing serious health problems is perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA), otherwise known as C8. Laboratory tests have shown that animals exposed to C8 were found to develop cancer and deformed fetuses and it is believed the same results are occurring in humans.

C8, along with other gases, is also known to instantly kill pet birds and cause a type of ‘Teflon flu’ in people that can last up to several days.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking this is a lot to take in at once, which is very true. That being the case it’s important to put things into perspective.

On the one hand we could keep on using our Teflon pots and pans being very careful about the temperatures they reach and trying to avoid causing scratches, which some experts have said increase the dangers.

On the other hand we could replace them and use our Teflon pots for growing tomato plants this spring.

If the second option sounds more appealing and you want to steer for safety, there are a number of other cookware options that are perfectly safe to use in the kitchen. Some include the following:

1. Stainless steel
This is probably one of the safest ways to cook as pots and pans made from quality stainless steel are usually indestructible and can enhance the taste of your cooking.

Even if your stainless steel cookware is not one of the high quality versions with a thick-layered bottom that conducts heat well, it will still have the strength to last a lifetime. By adding a little oil and preheating the pot before use, you’ll get that non-stick feel without all the fumes. Your food will be healthy, your air will be pure, and your birds safe!

2. Glass
Glass is great for both stovetop and oven use. Either way it conducts heat very well and sometimes better than stainless steel. At the same time this variable makes it important to watch your pie or quiche carefully to prevent it from burning. Best of all, although glassware may require soaking to remove dry crud, it is extremely easy to clean and won’t scratch with an abrasive sponge.

3. Ceramic 
Like glass, ceramic cleans well and can withstand very high temperatures. You also don’t have to worry about scratching the pot or pan with metal utensils. Furthermore, when something is made in a ceramic vessel, it can be served right out of the oven as ceramic makes a great presenter and if you like to entertain, you know presentation can make or break a meal.

The downside is ceramic may be more expensive than other materials but from the health and d├ęcor standpoint, it is well worth the price.

4. Cast iron
Finally, cast iron is another great choice that doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals, can be heated to extremely high temperatures, is resilient and when used properly, produces the non-stick effect we all enjoy.

It should be noted that iron from this cookware often leaches into food but unless a person has an excess in their system, it’s at healthy rates and benefits those with anemia and iron deficiencies. When using cast iron it’s important to learn how to prep, clean and maintain it. Once the basics are established it’s a great outlet for all types of food preparation - both in the oven and on the stove-top


Jakob Barry is a home improvement journalist for Networx.com. He blogs about eco-friendly kitchen topics for pros across the U.S. 

7 comments:

  1. Heya, this is an interesting post and I would like to know more. You've mentioned 'a number of studies' do you have some sources on hand?

    Cheers,

    Grant

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. Hi,
      One of the major studies was done by the Environmental Working Group:
      http://www.ewg.org/release/major-study-teflon-chemical-people-suggests-harm-immune-system-liver-thyroid
      Cheers,

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    3. Thanks for the reply Jakob, your initial post was quite thought provoking and I've been thinking about this a bit lately. After reading your link posted 28/01 I think I would err on the side of caution with Teflon coated cookware and probably not buy it in the future.

      I also found the below wikipedia article (and related footnoted sources) worth a read. You could potentially play it safe by monitoring the temperatures you allow your cookware to reach, but the amount of variables (quality of the product, faulty products, preheating before cooking conditions etc) to consider are probably too many to ensure a truly safe product.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teflon#Safety

      Thanks again, it was a worthwhile read!

      Grant

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    4. Thanks Grant,
      You're right; it's all about using with caution when that's all that's available and whenever possible trying something else. Here's to healthy cooking!

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  2. Do not use glassware on the stovetop unless the manufacturer specifically condones it!

    The Pyrex website http://www.worldkitchenasia.com/ap/OurBrands/OurBrandInfo/tabid/868/Default.aspx?brand=pyrexGlass#use says "NEVER USE ON TOP OF STOVE, under a broiler, in a toaster oven, or place over oven vent or pilot light." If you use pyrex in such a way and it breaks, it won't just break it will shatter sending glass shards flying in all directions http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/826642. I expect that glasware from other manufacturers would behave similarly.

    "Either way [glass] conducts heat very well and sometimes better than stainless steel." According to Engineering ToolBox http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/thermal-conductivity-d_429.html stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat and glass is even worse.

    "[glass] is extremely easy to clean and won’t scratch with an abrasive sponge." Abrasive sponges aren't very abrasive though, the scratchy bit is just plastic! If you take steel wool to your glassware you can certainly scratch it. On the pyrex website (linked above) they say "If scouring is necessary, use only plastic or nylon cleaning pads with nonabrasive cleansers."

    Note: I've only pointed out errors in the paragraph about glass here because I think the advice given (i.e. using glassware on the stove) would be dangerous to actually follow, it does not mean that I agree with everything else.

    - Jessica

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    1. Hi Jessica,
      Thanks for the comment. You are correct that it's important to follow the manufacturers instructions! I have some old glassware I use and never had a problem with it and it's certainly important to distinguish glass from Pyrex which was not mentioned above. As for steel wool, I had not considered using it in my kitchen to clean but I guess if it was used on glassware it may scratch it like it would stainless steel. Cheers!

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