Saturday, February 3, 2007

What I cook with...and why (Part 1)

I cook with stainless steel, glass, enamel, stoneware and cast iron.  I gave up aluminum cookware and pans with non-stick coating many years ago. My father died from Alzheimers in 2001 - he grew up in a home where aluminum cookware was the norm.  I know that aluminum is best for baking (all of Wilton’s pans are aluminum).  It is suppsed to conduct heat better than other metals but the risk is not worth it for me.  I think you have probably read enough about the dangers of aluminum that I don’t need to go there - if I am wrong, someone correct me.

I bake on stainless steel baking sheets, bake my bread in stainless steel pans or in stoneware and do my oven and stove-top cooking in cast iron, glass, enamel or stainless steel. Everything turns out just fine. Today I want to address the dangers of non-stick coatings on pans.  I can hear the dreaded cries now - it is so CONVENIENT!   It is so easy to clean up .....I know, I know....but what I want to ask you is this....IS IT WORTH IT?

First, let’s look at what Teflon is. The non-stick coating used on cookware is made from either a silicone base or a fluorocarbon base. (PTFE)  Fluorocarbon coatings are applied in layers and then topped with a sealer.  Cheaper pans have  thinner layers and usually have fewer layers. Higher quality pans have thicker layers, more layers and go through a curing process.  PTFE is great for providing a non-stick surface. it is also very soft and scrathes easily.  So, they mix it with other materials (chemicals) to form that non-stick surface. You can tell the cheap pans by running a finger over them - are they bumpy?  Then the coating was probably rolled on (doesn’t stick as well)  If the surface is shiny then it has been topped with Silicon which reacts badly with animals fats. These coatings are also damaged by cooking utensils, heating them to high temperatures and by washing them in the dishwasher or using harsh detergents. Once a pan has been scratched it leaches at a much higher rate into your food. 

Fluorcarbons  release fumes that are unhealthy for humans - especially those with breathing problems like asthma or bronchitis.  I am sure all of you have heard that these fumes can actually kill pet birds. The lungs of these birds hemorrhage and fill wth fluid which causes them to, what do you think it is doing to our lungs? At certain temperatures (over 400), there is a breakdown of fluoropolymers into other compounds that are released into the air. Do you think they might then also be released into the food...of course they didn’t decide to test that!  And do I want to be standing over a pan cooking and breathing these chemical compounds as they are released? 

Did you know that a non-stick pot or pan can reach 700 degrees in 3 to 5 minutes?  Did you know that these coatings can release 15 different harmful gasses and checmials, including 2 carcinogens, 2 global pollutants, and MFA (a chemical that is deadly to humans at low doses). Did you know that non-stick coatings break down into a chemcial warfare agent known as PFIB and a chemical analog of the WW2 nerve gas, phosgene? Did you know that some of these chemicals are also released at lower temperatures...but at a slower rate?  Did you know that when people get sick from these it is most often identified as the common flu - think about it - who goes to the Dr. and mentions that they were cooking using a non-stick pan?   When properly diagnosed, it is actually called polymer fume fever.  Of course, no one has ever studied the long-term effects from this sickness. 

Want to know what is released?  See if you can wrap your tongue around these names (and what they do):  Trifluoroacetate, or TFA (known to be mildly toxic to some plants, takes decades or centuries to break down), Polyfluorocarboxylic and polyfluorocarboxylic acids (a group of chemicals including one being phased out of Scotchguard and other products because it accumulates in the human body),Ozone destroying CFCs, and Fluorocarbons, which  can cause breathing problems in humans.

For those of you who think the government would protect us from such a me about a bridge I have for sale Wink! And the response from our government?.....the EPA says it doesn’t know enough about it to declare it a human health hazard.  So does that make us the guinnea pigs?

Stop by tomorrow for Part 2 and some solutions to help you cook, eat and live a healthier life!

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