One of the occupational hazards of running Practically Green is realizing that an extraordinarily ordinary item in your household is the center of a raging debate. Last week, it was our non-stick cookware–a set of All-Clad pans we got for our wedding nearly 13 years ago. I vaguely remember reading for the past few years that Teflon wasn’t so great, and we had been systematically reducing our usage without really understanding why. But now, in the process of editing our soon-to-be-live site, I needed to read all the articles that a group of environmental-studies graduate students had aggregated on the topic.
OMG! Is what first crossed my mind.
How the *&*(^& did I not know this?? was second.
Often known by the brand name TEFLON, non-stick cookware can be coated with PTFE, a subclass of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals (PFCs). PFOA, a gas, can be formed when the coating is subjected to high heat and begins to degrade. Some reports suggest that the heat doesn’t need to be that high for PFOA to be released. The direct health effects of Teflon have been observed with birds, some of whom die within minutes of being exposed to PTFE coated lights or when overheating a non-stick pan.
The Environmental Working Group has compiled a long list of other health related concerns related to PFC exposure in amounts not dissimilar to amounts where lab animals showed affects. The EPA considers PFCs likely human carcinogens, and they are known to induce testicular and mammary cancers in animals. PFCs are also associated with impaired fetal development, altered male reproductive hormones, and effects on the liver, thyroid gland, and immune system. Dupont, who makes Teflon, has agreed to phase it out by 2015.
While many experts insist it’s safe, it was that last sentence plus the fact PFOA in any amount is found to impact the immune system, that made me decide this wasn’t just a controversy to watch unfold. I decided those pans were headed to the recycling bin, especially since they were flaking–which seemed to me akin to “degrading”.
The only problem is that I really like non-stick pans. As the “hot breakfast” person in the house, I make pancakes and scrambled eggs in them. My better half does a mean set of chicken fingers and fish sticks for the kids. Now what?
We figured our regular pans and copious amounts of butter and oil would probably be fine, but we did need a few smaller sizes. We considered cast iron. We read about anodized aluminum, but ruled out as we have induction burners. And then I read about Green Pans, a new line of PTFE, PFOA free pans and even read a few “Are Green Pans really green?” articles. While we read about some concerns about the use of nanotechnology in Thermalon (the patented surface for Green Pans), I came away thinking it was a good compromise between eliminating non stick and our current state of affairs (Editor’s Note: We followed up with the company about the nanotechnology and those concerns are evidently “Internet myth”. A letter from the company, saying there is no nanotechnology used in GreenPans, is in our comments below). I not so subtly mentioned them as something that would be both very useful and very appropriate for Mother’s Day.
I’ve now owned two Green Pans for a little over a week and here is my experience:
Cooking: The chicken fingers and fish sticks cooked very well, very crispy and easy to turn. Pancakes were a little tough. First the pan wasn’t hot enough and so it made cloud looking pancakes–more oval with fluffy edges. Then the pan got too hot, and burned the edge before the middle was done. By the fourth or fifth one we seemed to find the right temperature setting and the shape and flavor were back to normal.
Cleaning: As claimed, so far nothing has stuck to the pan more or less than our regular non-stick. They rinse beautifully, but I’m a little befuddled by the instructions from there. The pan says it’s dishwasher safe. The printed instructions have a line that says they are dishwasher safe, but it’s literally crossed out. The website says “Although it is (dishwasher safe), we advise you to just wash it with a little soapy water and clean it with a soft dishcloth or sponge. If you wash it over and over again in a dishwasher, the non-stick properties of all ceramic-type non-stick coatings slowly start to fade.” I know the right thing to do is not put them in the dishwasher and that “degrading” on the Teflon version was part of the health issue. What’s not clear is whether the degrading of Thermolon is a durability issue or a potential health thing. Hmmm….We were dishwashing them, but I may decide to hand wash from here on out. (Follow Up: We decided to handwash. I will say that now, only two months later, the pans aren’t looking great with some brown spots on the interior and lots of staining on the exterior. We’ve seen other complaints regarding cleaning. Cooking is still good however.)
GreenPans are by no means the only option to avoid Teflon on the market. Cuisinart launched a PFOA/PTFE free line called Green Gourmet. The New York Times’ Marian Burros has a comprehensive review of other choices. However, if you do decide you are looking for GreenPans, they are sold at Crate & Barrel and Bed, Bath & Beyond as well online.