How Safe Is Your Kitchen Cookware?
In recent years the companies responsible for the introduction of chemicals in widely used household goods such as cookware, some clothing, plastics, etc. since 1945 have been under much scrutiny for the effects that these chemicals may have not only to our health but also to the environment. Chemicals called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are commonly used in Teflon and other non-stick kitchen appliances. More than a mouthful, PTFE and PFOA are raising the eyebrows of environmental watch groups in several countries and have sparked an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
One environmental watch dog, the Environmental Working Group, based in Washington D.C. stated, “Statistics reported by the Cookware Manufacturers Association indicate that 90 percent of all the aluminum cookware sold in the United States in 2001 was coated with non-stick chemicals like Teflon (Cooks Illustrated, September 2002). Chemicals and tiny, toxic particles released from Teflon kill household pet birds. At least four of these chemicals never break down in the environment, and some are widely found in human blood.” The criticisms about these ingredients are fueled by the fact that they were introduced without the extensive testing consumers expect to be provided before they were released.
So what is the big deal anyway? What are some of these potential effects? The EPA said in a statement it “had concerns with respect to the potential… presence of PFOA in blood and with the potential for developmental and other effects suggested by animal studies.” When these chemicals were tested on animals, evidence suggested weight loss, delayed sexual maturity, changes in the liver and cholesterol levels, and death shortly after birth in some animal species (Jeff Montgomery, The News Journal January 2005). For bird owners especially this is a very real problem. Birds (especially budgies, finches and cockatiels) are extremely susceptible to the toxic fumes emitted when non-stick pans are heated at high temperatures. “The birds die abruptly,” says a study from the Environmental Working Group, “usually shortly after new non-stick pans are heated for the first time.”
While animals have been exposed to much higher levels of the gases and chemicals to produce harmful affects, the concern is that PFOA/PTFE is still toxic to humans. They do not break down but remains in the blood of almost all people tested throughout five continents, has the potential to cause cancer, developmental problems in infants, and immune system damage. Furthermore, these chemicals are proven to remain in our environment for thousands of years without breaking down when the compounds are released from being overheated.
It is important that we, as conscious consumers, become more aware of the potential consequences that PFOA and PTFE play in us, our animals, and the world around us. We do have a part to play by reducing the use of Teflon or non-stick coated kitchen ware.
What to Look For
- Safer and environmentally friendly cookware alternatives to Teflon and non-stick pans.
- Do not use non-stick cookware or kitchen appliances in your home if you have pet birds. Fumes from the non-stick components can quickly kill birds if heated at high temperature.
- Begin phasing out Teflon and other non-stick cookware with some of these safer alternatives:
- Stainless Steel
- Stainless steel is not only preferred by most chefs because it heats quicker and browns food better than its non-stick counterpart but also for its longevity in the kitchen.
- While copper cookware can tend to be expensive it is known not only for its health benefits but also provides even heat distribution, longevity, and, much like stainless steel, heats quickly.
- Cast Iron
- Cast iron is another alternative as a “natural non-stick.” It is extremely durable, can be pre-heated to temperatures that brown meat and endure oven temperatures much higher than safe for non-stick pans.
- Other Cooking Surfaces
- There is a growing need for other non-stick cookware that can clean up easily and use higher temperatures. Examples include ceramic titanium and porcelain enameled cast iron. Both of these are great for browning food, dishwasher safe, and durable, but they are still a bit costly.