I know there are lots of you out there who are thinking, “I could never live without my non-stick pans”, but, believe me, you can – and there are plenty of reasons why you should.
Non-stick cookware is coated in polymers called long-chain perfluorinated chemicals (or PFCs). You’re probably more familiar with the brand-name Teflon. This is one incredibly slippery substance that has the unique ability to repel just about anything. As a result, it is used as everything from cookware to stain-repellent for your sofa fabric, and to make your raincoat waterproof.
While, on the surface, Teflon is simply marvellous, the trouble with it goes deeper than that. Studies have shown that just about every human on this fair planet has traces of PFCs in their bodies, even Eskimos who have never even heard of Jamie Oliver let alone used his pots and pans.
The Guardian reports, “Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), linked in laboratory animals to an increase in tumours of the liver, pancreas and testicles and reduced fertility, is one of the chemicals used in the chain of reactions that makes the common non-stick surface Teflon.”
While the effects on humans have not been confirmed, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year told companies to phase out PFCs to be on the safe side – a bold step that will no doubt be put down to “consumer concern”, which is supposedly why many plastics companies made the switch to producing BPA-free products.
What we do know about Teflon is that your pet budgie will cark it if you let a non-stick frying pan get too hot while you chase your toddler out of the kitchen. Humans can be affected too – there’s a thing called “Teflon flu” that gives you aches, pains and a stuffy head after exposure to the fumes.
Research has linked PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease and also to obesity in children. A recent study found kids that had higher levels of PFOA in their food were more likely to be slightly heavier at age 8, reports Healthy Child, Healthy World.
The common advice is to only throw your non-stick pans away when they start to flake and you’re eating the coating. But, according to the Environmental Working Group, the danger is not in ingesting the coating (so eat up! Joking – please don’t) but the big unknown is what long-term exposure to this chemical fug does to our bodies. And as the EWG points out here, it only takes a minute or two for your pan to reach a dangerous heat on the hob.
As you know, I practise the precautionary principle, which boils down to this: if in doubt, cut it out. For this reason, I long ago ditched non-stick cookware.
So what do we use instead?
I am absolutely in love with cast iron. We have the best collection of frying pans, all of which we have picked up at op shops for around $30. We originally started collecting them for camping, but once I realised how easy they were to clean and how well they cooked food, I started using them in the house too.
Stainless steel is also great and is widely regarded as the safest cookware but can be a pain to clean if something does stick. Ceramic and glass baking dishes, along with my one prized Le Creuset, make up the rest of the collection. These all require soaking and elbow grease to remove baked-on grime but I am someone who believes that stains make food taste better…
Another option that I haven’t tried personally but would if I didn’t have such an ace collection of cast iron pans is the new breed of non-stick, such as this range, which is coated with silica. I do love the colours and retro look of these pots and pans.
Tell me, do you use non-stick? Would you consider switching to a safer alternative? And have you got any tips for getting my ceramic baking dishes more presentable?