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Healthy Nonstick Cookware Tips

Healthy Home 2008, Spring 2008

Nonstick pans have come under fire lately. Cooking with pans that have a nonstick coating, such as Teflon, may expose you to a dangerous chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which advisers to the EPA have labeled as a likely human carcinogen.

This chemical and its precursors are also found in grease-resistant microwave popcorn bags and stain- and water-resistant fabrics. The EPA and the manufacturers report that PFOA isn't released in normal cooking, but heating a coated pan to high temperatures can cause off-gassing of PFOA. According to Dupont, this occurs at 660 degrees. Still, a forgotten empty skillet can reach that temperature in a few minutes.

Careful
Discard pans that have scratches; the coating can flake off into foods and be ingested. To avoid the fumes that occur when a nonstick pan is heated to more than 660 degrees, never put one under a broiler or leave an empty skillet on a stove-top burner. Technology is improving, so keep an eye out for products with newer nonstick coatings that do not contain PFOA. These are new, though, so long-term tests have not been conducted.

More Careful
Use anodized aluminum pans, which are hardened to the point that they're nearly nonporous, so food doesn't stick easily to their surface.

Most Careful
Use good old cast-iron pans. Although they are heavy, they conduct heat easily, and well-seasoned cast iron is virtually nonstick. Plus, the iron that leaches into your food from the pan can have health benefits.