Thoughts on Cookware Safety
Aluminum cookware is unsafe it causes Alzheimer’s, Teflon is unsafe and will kill your pets!
Fear mongering at it’s finest. There is a small grain of truth in theses that is blown far out of any semblance to the reality of the situation.
Teflon if heated to a high heat, over 300 degrees centigrade, or over 570 degrees fahrenheit, can soften or melt and outgas. You really need to abuse this stuff to have a problem. The gasses are toxic, but not terribly so for humans. Birds are much more sensitive to gasses which is why miners used to take canaries into coal mines. The birds would feel the effects of gasses sooner than the men and give the men time to evacuate safely.
Material Safety Data Sheets, msds, are required by law for many things sold in this country. A simple search for “msds: teflon” will bring up links to material safety data sheets for teflon.
Teflon fluoropolymers are physiologically inert and have no toxicological effects. When abused or high temperatures are used, teflon still isn’t terribly bad stuff. The msds says:
Inhalation of processing vapors at normal processing temperatures or smoking of contaminated tobacco products can cause “fluoropolymer fever” (very rare) after 2 – 6 hours (allergic alveolitis with influenza-like symptoms: rise in temperature, shivering, chest pains, coughing, accelerated pulse. Treatment is not generally required and the symptoms abate after 48 hours without any adverse consequences).
Emergency and First-aid Procedures
In case of eye contact, rinse immediately with water. In case of inhalation of thermal decomposition products, the victim should be removed from danger zone into fresh air. If any symptomatic reactions result from exposure consult a doctor. In case of ingestion, if person is conscious, give water or milk to dilute stomach contents.
They don’t even suggest contacting a doctor if it is ingested. So Teflon is not scary, nasty stuff. Just don’t abuse it by overheating it and use plastic or silicone tools to avoid scratching it.
The big problem with teflon coated cookware is durability. There are different grades of teflon coating and some are more durable than others. Cheap pans don’t last long. Better ones with care should last longer, but not forever. The coating will de-laminate and you will get bits of teflon in your food eventually, but since it is usually a small amount in your food, it is unnoticeable and will have virtually no health consequences. But food will stick when the teflon coating is compromised.
Some of the newer titanium, diamond or ceramic based non-stick coatings are more durable, but not inexpensive to purchase. Again, treat them gently for long-term durability.
Aluminum gets a bad rap since it is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Aluminum can leach into your food from aluminum cookware. How much depends on what you are cooking and for how long. Acid or base foods cause more leaching. This is why it is not recommended to cook tomatoes which are acidic in aluminum cookware for example.
Aluminum is nice stuff. It is light, easily worked, distributes heat well, (not as well as copper or silver). The good features of aluminum are why it was chosen to make cookware. Now we know about the problems of aluminum ingestion.
There are a number of solutions to aluminum’s leaching problems. It can be anodized, which is a process that oxidizes the surface. Once oxidized, the aluminum is much less reactive and doesn’t leach. Scratch through the anodized surface and it can leach.
We can cover the aluminum with a coating that protects the food from contact with the aluminum. Great, but should the coating fail, we are back to square one. Aluminum has a high coefficient of expansion, that means it expands and contracts more with heat or cold. This also makes it harder to coat it so that the coating is durable.
A better solution is to encase the aluminum for heat distribution in a non-reactive metal such as stainless steel. A lot of higher quality cookware will have layers of aluminum or copper encased in a stainless steel exterior, with or without a non-stick interior coating. Pots will usually only have the aluminum or copper added to the bottom since the cost and difficulty of extending this up the sides is high and the improvements in heat distribution are minimal.
Stainless steel is very safe. While there are elements used to make stainless steel alloys that are toxic, they are alloyed and not available to be leached out into your food. There are a number of stainless steel alloys. Most are fine for food preparation. Do note that one big difference among them is whether they are magnetic. This is important if you want to use an induction burner. Take a refrigerator magnet along when you shop. If it sticks the pan or pot will work on an induction burner.
Cast iron is another tried and true material for cookware. Bare cast iron rusts and will need to be oiled and the interior will need to be cared for by seasoning it and paying attention to how you use and clean it. Cast iron can leach iron into acidic foods. Iron in reasonable quantities is not toxic. Most cast iron cookware sold these days is either pre-seasoned at the factory, so you only need to maintain it, or it is coated with a ceramic so it is protected from interacting with the food. Cast iron heats slowly due to it’s mass and is heavy. It holds heat well and the mass helps to distribute the heat evenly.
So what do I have in my kitchen? Mostly stainless steel. My one non-stick pan is stainless with a titanium based surface. I also have some cast iron pieces. Most are seasoned and one is ceramic covered. No aluminum pots or pans.
I have heavy aluminum half cookie sheets and spring forms and other bakeware. Leaching of aluminum is not a problem in this use.