Teflon, How Is It Harmful?

Teflon or Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) for which it is a common brand name, has got some fairly bad rap over the years.

Described variously as toxic, carcinogenic and as dangerous for causing birth defects, non stick Teflon pans and cookware have been banished from a lot of kitchens.

There are reasons to think that Teflon is harmful, even dangerous.

Accusations have been leveled at Teflon manufacturers that they have hidden studies that have shown Teflon as being dangerous.

Much has been made of the fact that some household birds have been seen to keel over from the fumes emitted by Teflon being heated at very high temperatures.

In one study 99% of babies born were seen to have been born with trace amounts of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the main ingredient of Teflon.

The PFOA was also found to be present in the blood of 95% citizens. Even if you discount the fact that some sections believe Teflon to have carcinogenic properties, it has chemicals that are persistent and accumulative.

Its presence detected in polar bears and marine organisms however indicates that this comes from environmental build up rather off your pan and into your food. Though there is some evidence that PFOA is carcinogenic in rats, there is no causal link proved in humans.

The connection between Teflon and serious health problems is tenuous however Teflon can help prevent some of the health problems related to excessive fat consumption which may actually be more harmful.

Also PFOA is used in the manufacture of Teflon rather than found in the final product, so on a balance, it seems that Teflon products can be safe to use in our kitchens so long as we observe the following precautions:

  • Buy good quality Teflon products, the kind whose surfaces are resistant to peeling and coming off. Cheap, low quality ones are the kind that are likely to flake and come off and mix in your food and cause problems.
  • Don’t heat the pans to very high temperatures. When birds were seen to keep over from ‘toxic fumes’ emitted by the heated Teflon, it had been heated to over 600 degrees, a temperature that is not likely to be reached in our kitchen.
  • Use the pans in accordance with directions, using wooden spatulas etc so that metal spoons and spatulas don’t scratch the surface and cause flaking.