Is Teflon Safe?
This entire article was largely prompted by a sensationalist piece that I read on the internet, telling everyone how bad Teflon is and about all of the health risks it allegedly poses.
A bit of history
Ok, Teflon is actually just a trade name, from Dupont the chemical company that owns the formula. What we are really talking about is:
It is quite simply the slipperiest substance known to man.
Like so many things, it was invented by accident. In this case by a chemist called Ray Plunkett, who was trying to do something completely different and ended up with the polymer PTFE in 1938.
Sine then it has been used for all sorts of things, including electronics, aeronautics, clothing, industrial machinery, on the space shuttle, in atomic bombs, and of course for non-stick cookware.
So, is it safe?
The fact is that Teflon is not only the slipperiest thing know to man, but also one of the most inert substances that we’ve come up with. In a stable state it is completely non-toxic, any possible problems only arise when you heat it to temperatures over 260°c.
At these temperatures, Teflon starts to break down, and this can lead to the release of some potentially dangerous chemical fumes. These fumes are toxic to birds, and could induce some flu like symptoms in humans. Most people don’t get their cookware anywhere near 260°c at home, so this isn’t going to be a huge problem.
If you do need to cook at very high temperatures, then there is really no need to use non-stick pans, as any metal pan becomes naturally non-stick when it reaches high enough temperatures anyway.
Is Teflon a carcinogen?
There have also been some concerns about whether or not Teflon contributes to cancer.
The reality is that PTFE itself is not a carcinogen, but that one of the chemical compounds that is used during its manufacture, called POFA, may be.
This is really only worth even thinking about if you work in a factory making Teflon, not if you are using it to cook with. Statistics show that you are more likely to find traces of POFA in your carpet than you are in your frying pan.