Let's talk about Teflon.
We're all familiar with Teflon and other PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) due to their popularity in the kitchen: they keep food from sticking to frying pans. I suspect many of you know that we spray these chemicals onto rugs, sofas, and clothing as a stain repellent. But did you know they also coat pizza boxes, popcorn bags, and dental floss? Were you aware that PFCs are used to make bullets and computer mice? Raise your hand if you knew these compounds are put into cosmetics! We use this stuff in so many different applications that 98% of Americans carry PFCs in their blood. Scary stuff.
What makes Teflon so bad? Its main ingredient, PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), is a toxin thought to cause birth defects, developmental problems, hormone disruption, and high cholesterol. Ironically, Teflon's durability, slipperiness, and resistance to breakdown make it simultaneously commercially desirable and environmentally disastrous, not to mention damaging to human health. We can't get rid of it - neither inside nor outside of our bodies - and it can take centuries for the molecules to break down on their own. In other words, even if we stopped using PFOAs today, our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc., would still suffer the associated health effects. But we don't need to look to the future to see problems: in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where DuPont manufactures Teflon, residents have nearly six times as much PFOA in their blood as the average American.
Ready to ditch your Teflon pan? Bruce Lourie has some tips:
- Invest in a good frying pan with a solid base so it can heat quickly and evenly and retain heat at a constant temperature. The three basic categories are cast iron, stainless steel, and enamel-coated cast iron (my personal favourite).
- Heat the pan to the correct temperature before placing any food into it.
- Coat the entire surface of the pan with oil.
- Use a metal spatula. Plastic ones tend to shovel, whereas metal ones actually lift food off of the pan's surface.
There is some good news: DuPont will be phasing out the manufacturing, use, and purchasing of PFOA by 2015, and 3M, the maker of Scotchguard, has already voluntarily removed PFOS (perfluorooctane sulphonate) - another persistent, bioaccumulating toxin - from its products.
Over the past year, I've noticed some scratches in my non-stick pan but have been ignoring them because the skillet is still doing its job well. But now I'm not so sure I can keep using it. What about you? Will you make the switch to a healthier, environmentally-friendlier pan, or is this not that big of a deal?
Photo credits: chemical structure of PFOA; non-stick pan.