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Out of the frying pan: cooking without toxic Teflon

William McLennan

13th April, 2011

Non-stick pan coatings made from PTFE, otherwise known as Teflon, release carcinogens, pollutants and even a World War One nerve gas when heated. So what’s the alternative?

Teflon (PolyTetraFluoroEthylene), the miracle coating which stops grease from sticking, is found in a multitude of everyday objects from frying pans to clothes, and even lines the roof of London’s O2 arena. But alarmingly, when Teflon is heated to 260°C or above, it starts to decompose and release a number of chemicals including ammonium perfluorooctanoate or C-8, which has been linked to cancer. DuPont, the American owner of the Teflon brand, has admitted that it releases no fewer than six deadly gases, including two carcinogens, two pollutants and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans even in small doses.

But it doesn’t end there. If you continue to heat your Teflon pan and the temperature exceeds 537°C, the non-stick coating breaks down into a gas most commonly used as a chemical weapon called PFIB, which in its phosgene incarnation was used as a nerve gas during World War One. So deadly are these gases, the small print on the labels of Teflon pans recommend avoiding using it when pet birds are nearby. Why? Because these emissions are deadly even in small doses for canaries, budgies and parakeets. The effect on humans might not be as immediately obvious but it’s probably wise to proceed with caution.

Thankfully, there are some green alternatives. A good option is the non-stick range from GreenPan, which uses no Teflon whatsoever. Instead, the company uses a ceramic coating called Thermalon, which doesn’t emit dangerous gases. GreenPan also manufactures its pans without using C-8. Japan-based brand, Naked Pan, uses traditional Japanese craftsmanship to make their cookware. The pans are made of pure cast iron, 75 per cent of which is recycled, and form a natural oxide covering when heated meaning that no toxic non-stick coating is required.

GreenPan is available at John Lewis. Prices start at £25

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