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Teflon: Health and Safety


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A fourth: anyone frying bacon at 554 degrees ought to be shot.

Anyone frying bacon at 554 F deserves to eat whatever he/she/it prepared.

Also, to slkinsey, I agree with what you're saying... but any human living at 554 F is someone I will call "sir" and I will have a very healthy respect for whatever doc was brave enough to put some teflon in him/her. But, you're right. Unsubstituted fluorocarbons are probably more inert than elemental nitrogen in people.

However, people are also neglecting to look at another thing: at 554 F, the acrylic polymer used to stick the teflon onto the skillet will crack and outgas all kinds of activated nasty crap, including pieces of cracked PTFE molecules. Radicals, whether they are attached to fluorinated carbon, hydrogenated carbon, nitrogenated carbon, or almost anything I can come up with are not something I would want to breathe, period.

That's why I drive my roommate nuts by bitching about how poorly a cast-iron skillet cooks over an electric stove element. Slow-responding heat sources and thick skillets make for an attentive cook.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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  • 1 month later...

I was over at a friend of mine's two nights ago. She is an environmental lawyer, and was telling me about one of the cases she had worked on recently. It involved emissions from a teflon coating facility, allegedly causing health problems downind, bird kills and so on. The case is still before the courts.

Apparently, the chemical causing the (alleged) harm is flourine or flouride (I can't remember exactly). She suggested that heating teflon coated cookware to a high temperature could also release toxic compounds. She basically said, don't do it.

I do it all the time, especially for stir fries.

Has anyone else heard that heating teflon coated cookware to a high temp could be a health hazard?

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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I don't remember where I saw it or heard it (perhaps in documentation that came with a teflon pan), but I remember from somewhere that one shouldn't cook a teflon pan on high heat. This could be the reason or it could be that this is another food myth.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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This is indeed, not a food myth. Any responsible bird owner would know this; there are hundreds, probably thousands of people who have been heartbroken by the demise of their beloved parrots because of teflon poisoning....teflon heated to a high heat is toxic...and not only to birds....birds just happen to be more susceptible to it (kind of like the canary in the coal mine). The problem isn't just when you heat it up....the problem usually happens when people go away and forget it's on the stove. There have been humans who have also died of the teflon poisoning from overheated teflon. I do have parrots and other birds and used to have teflon pans..but even the most responsible cook can get involved in something else be it the telephone or whatever...and it doesnt' take long for the fumes to overcome a bird. I realized, thank goodness that I'm not infallible even though I try to be cognizant all the time when I've got the stove on, but as we all know, shit happens. So I got rid of the teflon. It's not just teflon either....there's several nonstick coatings that pose the same problem. It's not a huge problem I think to people who don't have animals in the house or are much more watchful when they cook....but if you've got parrots or any birds, getting rid of teflon will save you a lot of heartache. If anyone wants any info on this, I'd be happy to direct them to the appropriate sources; just PM me.

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Fluorocarbons like Teflon heated well above 500F can give off smaller molecule hydrocarbons down to HF that is indeed harmful to birds. However, the concensus was that there are a lot of other fumes from cooking that are detrimental to birds and that they should never be kept in or near the kitchen or kitchen fumes. I think the human death thing from this is an urban myth unless there is some extreme circumstance. That one comes up every so often and is usually debunked. But, birds are very sensitive and should be kept from ALL cooking fumes. The compounds just from browning reactions aren't too nice either. There are a lot of reasons to keep a bird out of the kitchen. I would just do that and not give up my non-stick omelet pan.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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  • 3 weeks later...
Fluorocarbons like Teflon heated well above 500F can give off smaller molecule hydrocarbons down to HF that is indeed harmful to birds. However, the concensus was that there are a lot of other fumes from cooking that are detrimental to birds and that they should never be kept in or near the kitchen or kitchen fumes. I think the human death thing from this is an urban myth unless there is some extreme circumstance. That one comes up every so often and is usually debunked. But, birds are very sensitive and should be kept from ALL cooking fumes. The compounds just from browning reactions aren't too nice either. There are a lot of reasons to keep a bird out of the kitchen. I would just do that and not give up my non-stick omelet pan.

I agree and disagree with your statements. #1. There HAVE been human deaths attributed to teflon poisoning (ie: leaving a pan on the stove and falling asleep; perhaps in a drunken stupor, but whatever...the guy died) I'm a critical care nurse and I've SEEN people with teflon poisoning on ventilators. It's not just an "urban myth". And yes, birds shouldn't be in the kitchen to begin with. However, if a teflon pan is overheated, the bird isn't in danger only in the kitchen...the fumes can go throughout the house and harm them. Obviously, the further away they are, the less chance of that, but there are a lot of apartment dwellers with birds. I've got several birds and when I lived in my apartment, they were never in the kitchen, but I can't tell you how many times I got involved in a conversation on the phone or someone came to the door and forgot that I'd set a pan on the stove to heat; only to find it smoking and have to drag the bird cages out onto the patio. I finally figured it wasn't worth it....and disposed of the teflon pans.

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I saw this a couple of months ago on 60 minutes. Humans are also very prone to this poisening, after breating in the fumes it can create flu like symptoms for up to two days. Read more here.

"Only the tougne tells the truth..."-F.A.

revallo@gmail.com

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I believe this is the reason they say to never heat your non-stick pan without at least a little bit of oil. The oil will smoke up long before the teflon starts to vaporize. So it's like an early warning system. Plus, the oil should help to keep the pan near the oil's smoke point (at least until all the oil is gone).

In general, though, teflon is ridiculously inert and perfectly safe stuff at normal temps.

...
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I believe that nonstick cookware is not allowed on US submarines for the same reason. I think I read that production of phosgene gas is a possibility from super heating nonstick cookware. Frankly, I just don't like the stuff and would just rather spend a few minutes scrubbing to get the finish back.

Edited by HungryChris (log)
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I believe that nonstick cookware is not allowed on US subarines for the same reason. I think I read that production of phosgene gas is a possibility from super heating nonstick cookware. Frankly, I just don't like the stuff and would just rather spend a few minutes scrubbing to get the finish back.

According to the phosgene MSDS there is no fluorine in phosgene. However, CF2O, the fluorine derivative of phosgene would certainly act remarkably similar. So, yeah, the big, bad-tempered brother of phosgene could be created if you heat your teflon far beyond the manufacturer's recommendation.

Moral of the story: use your equipment as specified by the manufacturer. Teflon is inert, but it does fall apart if you heat it enough.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Basically there are several issues here:

1. Polytetrafluoroethylene, otherwise known as PTFE and sometimes branded as "Teflon" is one of the most biologically benign substances we have in terms of tissue reactivity, etc.

2. The OP on this thread spoke of "emissions from a teflon coating facility," which is not the same thing at all. There has been some concern that ammonium perfluorooctanoate ("C-8"), a chemical used in the production or PTFE, is causing health problems around plants and factories. This does not necessarily have any bearing on the safety of PTFE once manufactured.

3. The animal deaths, etc. related to overheated PTFE have to do with the fact that PTFE, like many substances, will shed "ultrafine particles" when heated above 550F. These particles get into the delicate and small lungs of birds and other small animals, clog them up and cause the animals to die.

--

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To underscore the last two posts, if you're heating your Teflon-coated cookware to 550F, you're almost certainly in violation of the manufacturer's warranty. (As an aside, you're probably also not using non-stick cookware for its most appropriate purposes.)

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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  • 2 years later...

Admin: threads merged.

The EPA has reviewed testing results and found that a chemical used in Teflon non-stick cookware has a strong link to both cancer and birth defects. Called PFOA, the chemical is a key element in giving Teflon it's non-stick qualities.

The EPA has requested a 95% reduction in the use of this chemical by 2010 and a complete end to it's use by 2015. The bad news is that it's present in ALL non-stick cookware currently in use.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/commo...5E23289,00.html

http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/e...33;OpenDocument

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. . . . The bad news is that it's present in ALL non-stick cookware currently in use.

I'm pretty sure this is not true. According to the EPA release, PFOA "is an essential processing aid in the manufacture of fluoropolymers, which are used in the manufacture of a wide range of non-stick and stain-resistant surfaces and products . . ." and "may also be produced by the breakdown of fluorotelomers, which are used to impart water, stain, and grease resistance to carpets, paper and textile." It's not generally present in cookware as purchased. According to the Dupont web site: "A published, peer-reviewed study (April 2005) in Environmental Science & Technology found no PFOA in Teflon cookware. No PFOA was detected even when the cookware was scratched with a knife."

Dupont does qualify: ". . . according to a recently published study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), PFOA was detected in minute quantities in cookware using extreme and abusive test methods--methods that do not reflect what happens when consumers use cookware."

It's bad enough that this stuff is in the air, the water and our bodies. There's no need to scare people with misleading information.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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The EPA has requested a 95% reduction in the use of this chemical by 2010 and a complete end to it's use by 2015.

This isn't exactly what they're saying. From the EPA site:

Participating companies will commit to reduce by 95 percent facility emissions and product content levels of PFOA, PFOA precursors, and higher homologue chemicals, by no later than 2010, with the year 2000 as the baseline for measuring reductions. The program also calls for companies to commit to work toward eliminating these sources of PFOA exposure five years after attaining the 95 percent reduction but no later than 2015. Companies are being asked to meet these commitments in the United States as well as in their global operations. (Emphasis mine.)

This is not quite the same thing as saying "you can't use this stuff any more." It's saying, "you have to figure out ways to radically reduce emissions of and exposure to this stuff." Very, very different.

The bad news is that it's present in ALL non-stick cookware currently in use.

I should point out, per my posts above, that the toxicity of PFOA doesn't really have anything to do with the toxicity of PTFE. Cooking on a PTFE surface won't expose you to lots of PFOA.

--

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Isn't there some point where we will just throw up our hands and all say "you gotta go at some time and from some thing, so stop giving us more reasons to not enjoy life!"

Too much of anything is harmful, whether it be food, caustic chemicals (like PFOA... or perfluoro-anything). But, with each "new" way to have our lifestyle harm us, we jump, just like before.

I would still like to point out, that with our current lifestyle, we are living much longer than at any time before. So, I'm going to still make my Kraft Mac-n-Cheese (It's the cheesiest!) in my teflon saucepan, drink my fluoridated water, reuse the same water bottle, grill meat, eat bacon, drink coffee, and abstain from urine.

I guarantee you that by doing this, I will live to see my 29th birthday, whether it's the real one, or a repeat.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I'd make a different argument, which is that there is no important reason for some new technologies. Instead of a non-stick pan, use a little oil. A little oil won't hurt you.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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PTFE was invented (perhaps discovered is a more apt word) in 1938, so it's hardly a new technology. It's used in hundreds of products that have nothing to do with cooking or eating (including desktop computers, I might add), and the number of applications is growing steadily. We ought to protect our health and our environment, but the factual evidence that PTFE-coated cookware -- when properly used -- is in and of itself harmful to people is so thin that you could easily argue that dietary fat is more dangerous. (Not that I'm about to -- that's another case of too much noise and too little information.)

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I'd make a different argument, which is that there is no important reason for some new technologies. Instead of a non-stick pan, use a little oil. A little oil won't hurt you.

A little oil certainly won't hurt anyone.

And you don't need non-stick surface on every pan in your cupboard.

You need an 8" non-stick saute pan for eggs and a couple other things.

You don't need a non-stick stock pot, you don't need a non-stick sauce pot, you don't need a non-stick pasta pot, etc. And in fact non-stick surfaces are arguably detrimental when you are trying to make a pan sauce.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Isn't there some point where we will just throw up our hands and all say "you gotta go at some time and from some thing, so stop giving us more reasons to not enjoy life!"

Hear, hear! This is the culinary equivalent of the local news channel going "What you don't know about dust mites, and how it COULD be putting your CHILDREN at RISK! News at ten!" First time I heard about the dangers of teflon must have been at least 20 years ago, when this chemistry professor managed to convince everyone that cooking with teflon was pretty much the same thing as huffing Zyklon-B.

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PTFE was invented (perhaps discovered is a more apt word) in 1938, so it's hardly a new technology. It's used in hundreds of products that have nothing to do with cooking or eating (including desktop computers, I might add), and the number of applications is growing  steadily. We ought to protect our health and our environment, but the factual evidence that PTFE-coated cookware -- when properly used -- is in and of itself harmful to people is so thin that you could easily argue that dietary fat is more dangerous. (Not that I'm about to -- that's another case of too much noise and too little information.)

Well, my parents have non-stick pans and the non-stick surface gradually came off. Would you argue that the bits of non-stick surface we obviously ate were good for us? And if the surface comes off so easily, do you really believe that "proper use" is unlikely to have any effect on people? Only if it's really inert, I think.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Well, my parents have non-stick pans and the non-stick surface gradually came off. Would you argue that the bits of non-stick surface we obviously ate were good for us? And if the surface comes off so easily, do you really believe that "proper use" is unlikely to have any effect on people? Only if it's really inert, I think.

No, but I would argue that they were innocuous. Based on the information in section 10 of this MSDS you really don't have anything to worry about with accidental ingestion of teflon.

It really is less dangerous than swallowing bubblegum. I assure you. The pH 1 in your stomach, or the pH 9 in your intestines are not going to do a SINGLE THING to it chemically. The stuff is just too inert under those conditions.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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It sounds as if the health and safety charges are not going to stick to teflon. I always thought the worst offender in the plastic division was from diethylhexlphathalate (and no, I'm not sure of the spelling) and it took a long time to get it out of baby bottles and teething rings for instance, but there's a lot around in consumer containers.

Good Teflon pans can be very good for certain things, but by and large, I've never had the overwhelming need for them. Perhaps I've never learned to use them correctly because I've bought cheap ones that loose their magic all too quickly. They're certainly not needed for eggs. A cast iron skillet does quite well for fried eggs and omelets don't stick to my aluminum pan. Naturally both are very well seasoned. Then again we might all consider the risk of aluminum pans. Come to think of it, if you're not in fear of everything you eat, you probably haven't read enough on the subject.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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You're on the cusp of something, Bux, but you're not there yet. When you're looking at chemical reactivities, more reactive things are worse for you than less reactive things.

But, generally, to make less reactive things like water, table salt, or teflon, you have to start with some pretty amazingly reactive, and therefore poisonous/carcinogenic/mutagenic/teratogenic, things.

So, the moral of all of this is PTFE=innocuous, inert, unreactive. PFOA=reactive, dangerous, necessary (given our current level of technology).

So, those who use PFOA will have to reduce PFOA releases to the environment by either better controls at their plants that use it, or reducing PFOA usage by re-engineering their processes.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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