Nonstick cookware took the cookware industry in India by storm in the 2000s. It was a time when oil was seen as the culprit behind many lifestyle diseases. So, when non-stick pans promised minimal use of oil, incredible ease of cooking and quick clean up, everyone fell for it.
But soon, consumers started becoming aware of the ill effects of using nonstick cookware. They started resorting to stainless steel, cast iron and clay pots.
But even so, a majority of households have at least one nonstick cookware which they use when they need to make a quick omelette or sometimes even for boiling milk. And often you are ridden with guilt when you use your nonstick pan. Is that really necessary? Are nonstick pans really that dangerous? Let us explore in detail.
Chemicals Used In Manufacturing Process of Nonstick Cookware
Many people equate non-stick to Teflon, like how Xerox is to photocopying. But in fact, Teflon is a brand from Chemours ( a spin-off from Dupont) that sells non-stick coating. What you call Teflon is actually PTFE ( Polytetrafluoroethylene). It is a fluorocarbon solid, which means it consists of carbon and fluorine.
In the past, PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) was used in the process of manufacturing PTFE. Though PFOA is supposed to be completely burnt off in the manufacturing process its residue was found in many non-stick cookware. Worse still, PFOA levels in drinking water are found to be unusually high in industrial areas where non-stick coatings are manufactured.
As there are studies proving PFOA as a cause of concern to human health, most of the large-scale manufacturers eliminated it from their manufacturing process. As of 2013, PFOA was completely banned in the USA.
As mentioned earlier, nonstick cookware is made of PTFE. Teflon uses GenX chemicals instead of PFOA in the manufacturing process of PTFE claiming it to be safer. But lab tests have found GenX chemicals lead to tumours in rats. Chemours, the manufacturers of Teflon, refuted this by claiming tests on rats cannot be extrapolated to human beings as mechanisms associated with the tumour formation in rats might not be the same in humans.
But, its manufacturing has adverse effects on the environment. It has been ascertained by EPA that GenX chemicals do pollute the environment and have zero biodegradation. Considering that Teflon is used not just for cookware, but also in many industries like automotive, semiconductor, energy and oil etc., its impact is huge. So, even though PFOA was banned, the chemical that replaced it is still harmful to human health and to the environment.
Fortunately, there are brands that don’t use GenX or such harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process of PTFE. Such options can be considered safe, till they are proven otherwise.
PTFE as such is declared safe by FDA and European FSA. Even if the coating flakes and you ingest it, PTFE passes through your body without causing any adverse effects.
But PTFE coated cookware shouldn’t be heated above 260 degrees Celsius as they emit harmful gases which can be detrimental to your health. If you have a pet bird, you need to be especially careful as the fumes can cause distress or even kill them.
If you delve further into the details, you understand that PFOA is just one chemical of a large group called PFAS. Non-stick cookware may be PFOA-free. But it doesn’t mean they are PFAS free.
PFAS comprises more than 4,500 fluorinated chemicals which have adverse effects on human health. It is believed to cause cardiovascular diseases, asthma, ovarian insufficiency, elevated blood pressure and so on.
As per a study by IPEN, PFAS are prevalent in the manufacturing of non-stick coating in India and it could have an adverse effect on health and the environment.
In India, PFOA and GenX chemicals are unregulated. Most brands claim that their non-stick coatings are free of PFOA, cadmium and lead. But, we have to take the manufacturers’ word for it as there is no regulatory body to overlook this.
Even the ISI standards for testing non-stick coating only have parameters like visual defects, thickness, saltwater corrosion resistance and adhesion. The non-stick quality is tested by checking if it can cook an omelette without additional fat. It doesn’t consider aspects like the presence of PFOA. So, a BIS marking doesn’t ascertain whether it is safe for your health.
To understand further about the safety, we checked the websites of various non-stick brands to find more about the non-stick coating they use. This is what we found-
Prestige uses Teflon, which uses GenX chemicals in the manufacturing process.
Hawkins uses a German brand of non-stick coating. But they haven’t disclosed the brand name on their website. Considering that the EU has listed GenX as a possible substance of high concern, we can hope that their non-stick coating doesn’t have undesired effects.
Carote, an upcoming brand with highly positive user ratings, uses PTFE coating from ILAG, a Swiss-based non-stick coating manufacturer. The Granistone range used in Carote is highly durable and it doesn’t use PFOA, Gen-X chemicals or NMP in its manufacturing process. As per their website, they don’t use base materials that are rated as critical by legal authorities like ECHA and EPA.
Pigeon doesn’t disclose the brand of nonstick coating they use. They claim it to be an Italian technology and free of PFOA.
Cello Prima states that their non-stick coating is from Dupont. Considering that Dupont’s spin-off Chemours now manufacturers non-stick coating for cookware, we can infer Cello Prima uses Teflon, which uses GenX chemicals in its manufacturing process.
Nirlon uses nonstick coating from Whitford, USA. They are free of PFOA.
WonderChef claims that it uses 5 layer Meta Tuff coating, which is free of PFOA. However, we weren’t able to identify who manufactures Meta Tuff or any whereabouts of its safety.
Circulon uses Teflon coating. Though the manufacturers claim it to be safe, as mentioned earlier, GenX chemicals are used in its manufacturing process.
Meyer claims to use non-stick coating manufactured by Whitford and Chemours. But, they also say they don’t use Teflon. However, Teflon is the non-stick coating that Chemours manufactures for cookware. So, it is a bit confusing. Meyer claims that their non-stick coatings are approved by US FDA and European FSA.
Bergner uses coating from Whitford like Quantanium, Fusion etc on their non-stick cookware. According to Whitford, they comply with food safety regulations by FDA and EU. But the environmental impact is uncertain.
Vinod Cookware doesn’t disclose on their website the brand of the non-stick coating used.
Conclusion: Are Nonstick Cookware Safe?
Non-stick cookware made of PTFE is safe if not heated above 260 degrees Celsius. But, the environmental impact from its manufacturing process is too huge to be ignored.
Moreover, there is lobbying by big players and a lack of transparency in the manufacturing process. While EU based manufacturers claim their products to be safe for health and the environment, the fact remains that PFAS ( a group of 4700 chemicals) are used in the manufacturing process. And only two of these 4700 chemicals are banned. The safety of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process remains largely unknown.
Though the US and other Western countries have stringent regulations in place, India still lacks such a foolproof system. We have to take the manufacturer’s word and keep our fingers crossed. Considering these aspects, though brands like Carote and Bergner promise safe non-stick cookware, it is better to opt for alternatives like stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic cookware.