Ever wonder what effects your pots and pans have on your health? Learn all about what to avoid when it comes to cookware!
Most of us are pretty careful with what we put into our bodies. I know that I’m diligent in checking the ingredients list for any food that I buy, and I’m careful to choose fresh produce that I know is healthy for me. I’m also very touchy when it comes to food storage, preparation, and handling. Many of my family members find it odd that I have a separate cutting board just for handling meats or that I use a timer to keep track of how long a dish has been sitting on the counter.
Does Cookware Matter?
There’s a lot of scientific evidence that shows that saturated fats are bad, that you should cook meat to a certain temperature, and that leaving warm food out in the open can quickly lead to bacterial growth. But what about your cookware? Can the materials used in your pots and pans wind up in your stomach, and if they do, will they cause you harm?
The answer is “probably not.” There are definitely a few safety concerns when it comes to cookware, but these concerns are very specific and not things that you’ll often encounter during your everyday cooking. The truth is, you’re pretty safe to use almost any kind of cookware you buy in the United States. There are a number of regulatory agencies that put in diligent work to ensure that the products you find are food-safe and healthy to cook on.
But What About Teflon?
Old-school Teflon was manufactured with the aid of certain hazardous chemicals, notably one called PFOA. These chemicals ostensibly evaporated harmlessly long before the Teflon pot or pan left the factory. Some people think that traces of these toxic chemicals would commonly stick around in old Teflon cookware. In practice, microwave popcorn bags expose consumers to far more of this chemical than old Teflon did. Regardless, cookware manufacturers stopped using PFOA in the creation of their non-stick cooking surfaces back in 2002.
Is Modern Teflon Safe?
Teflon is fantastically inert and non-reactive. It’s not necessarily “safe” to eat, but if you accidentally ingested a small chip of Teflon, it would simply pass through your digestive tract with no effect. The same idea applies to most modern non-stick variants: the same properties that make a material non-stick make it pass through your stomach and intestines harmlessly. You still shouldn’t literally eat your pots and pans, of course, but if you happen to ingest a small flake or chip, accidentally it’s probably not a big deal.
This stops being true when Teflon gets really hot. At temperatures of between 400 and 500 degrees, PTFE-based non-stick coatings begin to get pretty unsafe. They’ll start to release toxic fumes and begin breaking apart, losing their non-stick properties.
How Hot Do Pots and Pans Get?
The surface of your pots and pans doesn’t usually reach 400 degrees, especially over medium heat. It’s absolutely possible to get a pan to over 500 degrees on a home range, however. If you want to use PTFE-style non-stick, you’ll definitely want to stick to lower heat settings and use care to avoid accidentally overheating your pots and pans.
What Non-Sticks Are Totally Safe?
Ceramic-based non-stick coatings, like Thermolon, are safe to temperatures of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit. This is pretty hard to hit on most home ranges, so you’ve got a lot more room. Cookware with stainless steel or cast iron cooking surfaces will be food safe to most realistic temperatures. This means that both stainless steel and cast iron make perfect pans for cooking.
Is Aluminum Safe?
Raw aluminum isn’t the best material to make cookware out of. It’s not particularly safe to eat, and it’s soft and reacts easily with food. If you manage to find cookware with an ordinary aluminum cooking surface, you definitely don’t want to eat out of it.
Luckily, cookware manufacturers don’t use regular aluminum to construct their cooking surfaces. Instead, they subject the aluminum to a process called “anodization,” which puts a thin layer of hard, inert, and non-reactive material in between your food and the aluminum. Some people think that this isn’t enough to fully protect you from aluminum particles leaching into your food, however, so almost every modern manufacturer puts an additional non-stick material in between the aluminum oxide and your food. In other words, you’ve got two layers of protection that keep you from eating aluminum bits.
What’s The Safest Type Of Cookware?
I’m skeptical of the safety concerns that I’ve heard related to PTFE and anodized aluminum, but some people do think that these materials should be avoided in your home cookware. If you want to be completely safe, I’d suggest sticking to stainless steel, cast iron, or ceramic non-stick cooking surfaces. Pretty much everyone agrees that all three of these options are totally safe.
The Best Pots and Pans For Healthy Cooking
All modern cookware is pretty safe. In order to completely dodge safety concerns, however, you might want to stick with ceramic, stainless steel, and cast iron cookware. All of these options have been used for many years with no ill-effects. If you’re a bit more adventurous (or trusting), you can also use anodized aluminum or PTFE cooking surfaces.
Most scientists think that both of these materials are fairly safe for use as a cooking surface. If you do use PTFE nonstick, be sure that you avoid overheating your pots and pans, as this WILL cause them to become unsafe and let some pretty nasty chemicals into your food.