Nonstick Pan Safety ANSWERS


Some of the chemicals in this nonstick pan
could be hazardous to human health — also the chemicals used to make it back at the
factory. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean this is dangerous to cook with. In fact,
the weight of scientific evidence and expert opinion is on the side of this being quite
safe to cook with, as long as you don’t get it way too hot — and even if you did that,
it probably won’t be a very big of a deal, unless you already have a cardiorespiratory
disease or if you are a bird. But it’s not all good news. Bad chemicals
used in the production process for pans like these are everywhere in our environment. They’re
probably in your body right now, whether you cook with one of these or not. Details? Field trip to the National Institute
of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina, where Dr. Mimi Huang is a
post-doctoral fellow at the National Toxicology Program. Hey, does she cook on Teflon? “Uh, yes, I do. Because I’m really lazy and
I don’t feel like soaking my pans in the sink just to scrape off the stuff off the bottom.” Scientists — they’re just like us! So what is Teflon? Well, Teflon is a brand
name. For the rest of this video, we’re gonna try to refer to the chemical at the heart
of all such pans — PTFE. “Yeah, and so that’s basically just a carbon
chain with a ton of fluorines all around it, and it makes it — because of the way the
chemical is, it makes it very resistant to reacting with other sorts of chemicals, or
dissolving other chemicals, which makes it a very good nonstick coating.” And that’s the same factor that makes these
things pretty safe to cook with. The manufacturers may tell you to replace them the second you
scratch them and they start to chip, but… “…as I mentioned before, the chemical structure
makes it pretty inert, and so if you were to ingest, you know, a chip of your Teflon
pan, that would probably go through your system pretty harmlessly.” Good, because I’m guessing I probably ate
that chip right there. A lot of manufacturers also tell you to never
put your nonstick pans in the dishwasher. Dr. Huang says that probably doesn’t have
anything to do with safety. “I’d imagine their main concern might be that
it might degrade the coating faster, and so that would decrease the quality of their pans.
And so, to avoid unhappy customers, they might recommend not putting it in the dishwasher,
or getting new ones after they scratch it. Plus, I’m sure that encourages people to buy
more, right?” Ah ha! You know, about 10 years ago, I decided
I’m gonna stop tearing my nonstick pans to shreds. I’m gonna get a really nice, expensive
one, and I’ma treat her right. I literally scratched it the very first time I used it.
Nonstick pans scratch and chip, it’s what they do. Funny enough, when you make a chemical
that doesn’t stick to things, it’s hard to make it stick to things, like the bottom of
the pan. I strongly believe that my possessions should
serve me, I should not serve them. So my approach these last few years has been to buy relatively
inexpensive nonstick pans, use them, abuse them, and just replace them every few years. There actually is one health risk posed by
PTFEs in the kitchen, and that is a very rare disease called polymer fume fever. It’s a
thing that can happen if you overheat your pans. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. Real quick, let me thank the sponsor of this
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and enter my offer code adamragusea80. That’s in the description. OK, the so-called Teflon flu. This really
is a thing that you can get from working with these pans. “If you get them really really hot, they will
start to vaporize — so, basically, it’ll come off of the pans.” And if you breath that in, you can basically
get a little flu — fever, chills, that kind of thing. But in most known cases, it only
lasts a day or two, and then that’s it. Researchers believe it only poses a serious health risk
to people who are already sick, and/or people who breath in a TON of the fumes. Also, yes,
birds. Nonstick pans do kill birds, that is a thing that veterinarians talk about. Now, how hot do you need to get this thing
before you risk the flu? “This is at, like, temperatures way higher
than I presume most people are using. These are temperatures that would burn your food,
and you would clearly see some degradation of the pan that you’re using at the temperatures
where this happens.” Degradation like say, this. This is a picture
of the pan involved in one of the tiny handful of documented cases of anybody in their kitchen
giving themselves polymer fume fever. This happened in 2012. A 29-year-old guy in Japan
put some water on the boil for pasta, but he forgot about it and he fell asleep. He
woke up five hours later and found his room full of some kind of smoke. He grabbed the
pan, he ran it to the sink and then when he poured water into it, “an explosive vapor
came out from the surface of the pan,” which he breathed in. So that’s kind of a worst-case-scenario in
the kitchen, right? And what happened to him? He had a fever, he had a cough, and was a
little bit short of breath. It was way better by the next day, and by the third day he was
back to normal. Here’s a chart showing documented cases of
polymer fume fever in the U.S. When it says “four” in 2012, that’s not short for 4,000.
That’s four. And Dr. Huang says most of those cases are not people working in their kitchens.
It’s people working in factories… “…where workers are, you know, putting the
coating on themselves and are very much exposed to it, so… A lot more cases are in that
realm. There have been a couple of cases in the general population, maybe two, I think,
in the past decade — that’s been recorded, right? So we don’t know about the ones that
haven’t been recorded.” Indeed, I get a little sick all the time,
and if my pan were to blame, I’m not sure that I would put two and two together. There are a lot of estimates about what temperature
will cause a nonstick coating to become dangerous. Most experts would say you shouldn’t take
them past 500 F, but they don’t start to break down until about 570 F, and they don’t really
get going until 662 F. Let’s do an experiment. Nonstick pan goes
under the broiler, and I’ll take its temperature with my fancy infrared thermometer. It took
more than 20 minutes for this to reach the danger zone — and that’s with the pan being
empty. If you have food in there, it’s gonna absorb a lot of the heat. When I did my pan pizza recipe from the other
day in my nonstick, the exposed rim of the pan wasn’t anywhere near the danger zone by
the time the pizza was cooked. Now up on the burner, the story is a little
different. When I put this on high, it hit the danger zone in about four minutes, so
don’t do that. I might occasionally use high heat with this pan, but only with lots of
food in it. You don’t want to preheat this empty for the purposes of, say, searing a
steak. And there’d be no reason to, because if you properly sear a steak in a normal pan,
it’s not gonna stick. This is for more gentle, delicate things, like eggs. And even with these experiments I did, the
pans were just starting to get overheated. They didn’t break down visibly at all. And
Dr. Huang thinks you’d probably have to get your face right in there and breath in those
fumes to risk getting sick. Now, before we finish, there’s something more
serious to discuss. For many years, manufactures used a chemical called PFOA in the process
of making these. PFOA is bad stuff. It’s a possible carcinogen and it lasts for forever
in the environment. There have been many lawsuits involving people who lived near the factories
getting really sick, but… “There really is a very minimal amount of
residual PFOA or other perfluorinated chemicals in the nonstick pans — like, you know, thousands
of folds lower than what is observed in the water or food.” So, good news: it’s not in the pan. Bad news:
IT’S EVERYWHERE ELSE, it’s in the water, and it’s probably in your blood, right now. Industry
has been phasing out PFOA for this reason, but there’s concern about the chemical process
they’re now using instead. So, is that a reason to not buy nonstick pans?
To avoid supporting an industry that is introducing these chemicals into our environment? Well,
maybe, but the thing is, nonstick coatings are everywhere. This is just the place where
you’re most aware of them. They’re in electrical cables, cosmetics, popcorn bags, dental floss,
basically any stain- or water-resistant fabric — carpets, furniture, clothes. These coatings
are everywhere, and so are the potentially hazardous chemicals used to produce them.
That is a fact of modern life, whether you cook in one of these or not.

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