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The Sticky Side of Nonstick Cookware

Natural Times, October/November/December 2013

By Sandy Beck

My husband loves waffles. Every Sunday morning he set up the waffle maker and made a stack of delicious buckwheat waffles, smothered with blueberries and bananas.

But a few years ago, I read something disturbing. Teflon is a silent but deadly killer of birds. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommended that bird owners, “completely avoid cookware and heated appliances with non-stick coatings,” as the off-gassing, even at very low levels, can be fatal to birds.

As St. Francis Wildlife’s education director, I care for the disabled birds of prey that accompany me to school programs and events. The barn owl in the sunroom is our “canary in the coal mine”—what’s hazardous for our feathered friends may also be hazardous to our own health.

The nonstick coatings in question are made with a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is made from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA has been linked to male infertility, pregnancy difficulties, high cholesterol and thyroid problems, and is also a known carcinogen. It is found on nonstick cookware and appliances—including space heaters, irons and waffle makers.

Teflon, made by Dupont, is one of the best-known nonstick cookware brands using PTFE, but not the only one. Calphalon, Scanpan and All Clad’s nonstick pans all use PTFE coatings. Even Swiss Diamond’s expensive nonstick “diamond nano-composite” also contains PTFE.

According to this report from the EWG, the act of pre-heating a pan coated with this nonstick surface for two to five minutes, emits toxic particles and gases linked to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pet bird deaths and may also sicken people, producing flu-like symptoms sometimes called “Teflon flu.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that nonstick packaging used with microwave popcorn, pizza boxes, paper plates and some other articles can also be hazardous.

We have missed our nonstick cookware and the perfect omelets and waffles they made. Stainless steel pans are lovely and sturdy, but require more cooking oil and scrubbing. Recently, however, a few companies have used newer nonstick technologies to produce the next generation nonstick cookware.

Cuisinart’s Ceramica GreenGourmet line and GreenPan are two companies that manufacture low to medium-priced cookware with a ceramic nonstick coating that does not contain PTFE or PFOA.

I have used two GreenPan pans for the last year and am very happy with them. Whichever brand you purchase, be sure to carefully read the care instructions pamphlet. I treat my pans gently. I use only plastic or wood spatulas and spoons during cooking, wash with a soft sponge and then wrap the pans in towels for storage.

This new nonstick cookware would make an excellent holiday or house-warming gift for those who need to replace their old PTFE cookware.

After hours of research, I found and ordered the perfect holiday gift for my husband—an Oster DuraCeramic Flip Waffle Maker, PFOA and PTFE free. I can almost taste Bob’s-bodacious-blueberry-banana-buckwheat-waffles!

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