Bakers planning to whip up a batch of cookies for Valentine treats using Teflon coated cookies sheets might want to reconsider. Utensils that are used to cook food often do more than just “hold” the food. Molecules of substances can leach from the utensil to the food that is being cooked in that utensil. Three of the substances that have been connected with utensils include aluminum, lead, and iron. Now added to the list is Teflon. All have been associated with illness. Unless readers have been out of the county, they have heard the news concerning the the dangers of Teflon coated cookware, sold by billions world wide, with the first Teflon coated frying pan in 1961. Today, the same consumers are being told that their Teflon coated cookware is killing their pet birds and giving the family cook — and anyone else in close proximity to the cooking area — symptoms of a two day bout with the flu, and at the same time injecting their blood steam with a dose of Teflon.
In cases of “Teflon toxicosis,” as the bird poisonings are called, the lungs of exposed birds hemorrhage and fill with fluid, leading to suffocation. DuPont acknowledges that the fumes can also sicken people, a condition called “polymer fume fever.” DuPont critics say the company has never studied the incidence of the fever among users of the billions of non-stick pots and pans sold around the world. Neither has the company studied the long-term effects from the sickness, or the extent to which Teflon exposures lead to human illnesses believed erroneously to be the common flu.
Critics like the Washington, D.C., based Environmental Working Group say that the government has not assessed the safety of non-stick cookware. According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety scientist, “You won’t find a regulation anywhere on the books that specifically addresses cookwares,” although the FDA approved Teflon for contact with food in 1960 based on a food frying study that found higher levels of Teflon chemicals in hamburger cooked on heat-aged and old pans. At the time, the FDA judged these levels to be of little health significance to birds. Critics say that chemicals and tiny, toxic Teflon particles released from heated Teflon cookware has killed pet birds. Most non-stick cookware carries no warning label. DuPont publicly acknowledges that Teflon can kill birds, however critics are quick to note that the company-produced public service brochure on bird safety discusses the hazards of ceiling fans, mirrors, toilets, and cats before mentioning the dangers of Teflon fumes.
For me, I have never had much luck keeping the Teflon on the pan and out of my food. From my shining new wok to the muffin pans, once the food was taken from the pan with the Teflon coated spatula I notice small strips of Teflon missing. I often thought that we might be eating the stuff, so I gave up on using Teflon coated cooking ware sometime ago. After four hours of online research, I have decided that Teflon is out of my kitchen for good and hopefully out of my food. I still like using my old Wearever stainless steel pots and pans.
Cooks concerned about the effects of Teflon on human health and their pet birds might want to consider these alternatives:
Aluminum: Early studies indicated that Alzheimer’s patients have unusually high levels of aluminum in the brain, proposing a possible connection between the elevated aluminum and the disease. However, current studies have shown that the increased aluminum levels in these patients were attributed to a preservative that was added to the sample.
Although up to 52 percent of all cookware is made with aluminum, research has shown that the amount of aluminum leached into food is insignificant especially when compared to everyday sources of aluminum. (Even so, I still like my aluminum ware clad in stainless steel.)
Lead: Children should be especially careful of ceramic ware containing lead. Acidic foods such as oranges, tomatoes, or foods with vinegar will cause more lead to be leached from ceramic ware than non-acidic foods like milk. More lead will leach into hot liquids like coffee, tea, and soups than into cold beverages. Any dish ware that has a dusty or chalky gray residue on the glaze after it has been washed should not be used. Also, any ceramic ware bought abroad or categorized as a craft, antique, or collectable may not meet FDA specifications, and should not be used to hold food. Test kits can detect gross levels of lead in ceramic ware, but may not detect lower levels that are also potentially dangerous.
Iron: Cast iron can be pre-heated to temperatures that will brown meat and withstand oven temperatures well above what is considered safe for non-stick pans. The new cast iron can now be purchased pre-seasoned, ready-to-use. However, researchers who tested 20 foods proved that foods cooked in cast iron did indeed add significant amounts of iron to the food — the results of which were published in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. They measured the iron and moisture content of these items when raw, and after cooking in an iron skillet and a non-iron (Corning Ware) dish, separately. A new, seasoned iron skillet was used, in the event prior use might have affected iron absorption. The researchers measured the iron and moisture content of these items when raw, and after cooking in an iron skillet and a non-iron dish, separately. A new, seasoned iron skillet was used, in the event prior use might have affected iron absorption. The researchers also compared iron absorption when using a new iron skillet versus an older one. Food cooked for longer periods of time absorbed more iron than food that was heated more quickly. They also found foods prepared with a newer iron skillet absorbed more iron than those cooked in an older one. Foods that were cooked and stirred more frequently absorbed a greater amount of iron as well, probably because they came into contact with the iron more often. Hamburger, corn tortillas, cornbread, and liver with onions didn’t absorb as much iron. This was probably due to the shorter cooking times, and the fact that they were either turned once or not at all, resulting in less contact with the iron.
Stainless Steel: My favorite cooking ware have long been Wearever stainless steel. Most chefs agree that stainless steel browns foods better than non-stick surfaces. In their 2001 review of sauté pans, Cooks Illustrated, an independent publication, chose a stainless steel pan over otherwise identical non-stick models. They also recommended stainless steel pan roasters over non-stick. One of the cheapest sets of good stainless steel, recommended by Good Housekeeping and your truly, is Wearever Soft Luxury pots and pans that will please the average cook. I like the skillet, with a nonstick interior and easy to clean.
Today, picking the vessels in which to cook and serve the food you serve your family, guests and yourself is just as important as picking the freshest and the choicest food the budget can afford. Before you invest in a new piece of cooking ware read the label, do some research on the Internet, in the library, or ask your home extension agent for advice before spending your money.