What Is PFOA-Free Cookware?
Kitchen Expert Jacob Cummings breaks down the risks of PFOA, a common chemical found in cookware, and lists some alternative, safer options to keep in your kitchen!
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Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) are all part of a potentially toxic chemical group known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). They are currently being phased out in the U.S., and have been replaced with the more safe polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and ceramic nonstick coatings. But companies still may use these potentially harmful chemicals as part of their manufacturing process. So it’s important to learn how to choose and use cookware that is PFOA-Free.
Simply, if your cookware is newer than 2013, you don’t need to worry so much about this toxic chemical showing up in your masterpiece. But, here’s a rundown of what’s at stake and why it’s good to understand the risks of non-stick cookware.
What Are the Risks of PFOA Exposure?
PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) is a synthetic chemical compound that has been used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications—including the manufacture of non-stick coatings, food packaging materials, and firefighting foams.
PFOA is some nasty stuff and has since been classified as a "likely human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the American Cancer Society, and the FDA. It has been linked to a variety of health effects in the human body including:
1. Cancer: The chemical has been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer in humans, as well as to several types of cancer in animals.
2. Developmental effects on reproduction: PFOA has been shown to cause developmental and reproductive effects in animals, including reduced fertility, birth defects, and altered development of the brain and immune system.
3. High cholesterol: Exposure to PFOA is associated with higher levels of cholesterol in humans, which can increase the risk of heart and liver disease.
4. Thyroid disease: PFOA has been linked to thyroid disease in both animals and humans. In humans, exposure to PFOA has been associated with an increased risk of thyroid hormone imbalances and thyroid cancer.
5. Other health problems: PFOA has also been linked to other health problems in humans, including immune system disorders, obesity, flu-like symptoms, and diabetes.
While the use of PFOA in cookware has been banned in the United States since 2013, it is still possible that some cookware products on the market may contain trace amounts of PFOA as a result of its previous use in the manufacturing process. If you are concerned about exposure to PFOA, you may want to consider using alternative cooking materials, such as stainless steel, ceramic non-stick pans, cast iron, and copper cookware.
PTFE v. PFOA
In short, PFOA is bad. In contrast, however, PTFE is generally considered to be safe for use in cookware and other consumer products. It’s great on the stovetop for eggs and pancakes, and stain resistant on the cleanup, too.
However, PTFE pans can be damaged by high heat, so they are not suitable for use at high temperatures. They can also release toxic fumes if they are overheated, so it is important to use PTFE-coated cookware according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
Solutions to Safer Nonstick Surfaces
No cookware material is completely non-stick, so you will still need to use some oil or butter when cooking to prevent food from sticking. Additionally, all nonstick coatings will eventually wear out and need to be replaced.
For many reasons, longevity and health-related, it's a prudent idea to choose a high-quality nonstick. The below-mentioned options are generally considered to be durable and safe nonstick options that require almost no fuss during cooking and cleanup:
Teflon PTFE-Based Nonstick Cookware
Today, the most commonly used nonstick coating is Teflon PTFE. When handled accordingly, the material is considered safe, durable, and dishwasher-safe. However, as mentioned above, PTFE coatings can be damaged by high heat, so they are not suitable for use at high temperatures. There are some great picks that are made with either hard anodized aluminum or clad stainless steel, but the cost will vary on build quality, brand name, and the number of pieces included.
Top Pick for Hard Anodized Cookware: Anolon X
Anolon X cookware is perfect for the home cook who’s serious about taking their recipes through all the paces. These can be used in both the stovetop and the oven, and there’s no need to worry about damaging the nonstick with metal utensils. In the bottom of the pan is a stainless steel insert that toughens the bottom and helps with retaining oil in the center of the pan. These are oven-proof to 500℉, and they’re available in a range of vessels that match all one’s needs in the kitchen.
Top Pick for Stainless Steel Cookware Sets: Scanpan Haptiq
The ScanPan Haptiq is professional-quality cookware that is handmade with five-ply stainless steel. The nonstick coating is so durable that the company backs it with a lifetime warranty. It’s perfect for anyone who wants super-durable cookware with the benefits of a tough nonstick coating.
Ceramic nonstick coatings are made from inorganic materials, like silica, that are applied to the surface of the cookware. The top brands in this category are Caraway, Greenpan, OXO, and Zwilling. Ceramic has not historically been known for its durability and resistance to scratches, but the technology is getting better with each revision. In general, people report getting between 2–5 years of use out of a pan before it begins showing signs of damage. However, it’s super important to remember to use ceramics at medium-low heat settings to prolong its lifespan.
Top Pick for Ceramic Cookware Sets: Greenpan Valencia Pro
With the seventh generation of Greenpan’s ceramic nonstick coating, this cookware is more affordable and durable than ever. With a hard-anodized construction that retains induction compatibility, this line is built to be versatile, comfortable, and affordable. Stay-cool handles, glass lids, and a range of vessels make it easy to take these pieces from the stovetop to the oven.
Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron is a good nonstick alternative because it is a durable and heavy-duty material that can withstand high heat. Unlike nonstick pans—which are made with a coating that can scratch or peel over time—cast iron pans can last for decades with proper care. They also have excellent heat-retention properties, meaning they can hold heat evenly and maintain a consistent temperature while cooking. In addition, cast iron pans can be seasoned with oil—creating a natural nonstick surface that can be used to cook and flavor a variety of dishes. This makes them a versatile and long-lasting choice for those looking for a nonstick alternative.
Top Pick for Cast Iron Cookware Sets: Le Creuset Enamel Cookware Set
This cookware set is perfect for small families or anyone looking to experiment with owning cast iron without fully committing to the price and space that the cookware often requires.
The 5.5-quart dutch oven is the mainstay of this set. It’s capable of doing just about everything in the kitchen from frying, baking, searing, and braising. The saucepan and the skillet are smaller additions that can perform their own tasks or assist the heavy lifting of the dutch pot. With proper planning, this simple cookware set can be all one needs to prepare most meals.
Copper cookware can be an adequate alternative to nonstick cookware in certain cases. Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, which makes it a good choice for cooking a variety of dishes. It is also a very durable material, so it can last for many years with proper care and maintenance.
However, there are drawbacks to using copper cookware. Copper is a reactive metal, which means it can react with acidic foods, such as tomatoes or citrus, and cause a metallic taste to develop in the food. Due to this aspect, most modern copper cookware is clad with either tin or stainless steel in the cooking surface to provide a neutral and non-reactive material.
Copper cookware also tarnishes—which requires the owner to perform special care and maintenance. This includes frequent cleaning and polishing to keep it looking fresh. Although the tarnish will not impact the performance of the cookware.
In addition, copper cookware is generally not nonstick, so you will need to use oil or butter when cooking to prevent food from sticking. This can make it more challenging to cook certain types of dishes—such as eggs or crepes—that require a nonstick surface.
Top Pick for Copper: Hestan Copperbond
All modern copper cookware sets are clad with other metals to assist with the challenges of using copper. The Hestan Copperbond is gorgeous, high-performing, and lined with a durable stainless steel to make it possible to cook with any ingredient. Perfect for home cooks and professionals, all Hestan cookware is made for high outputs and multiple lifetimes of usage.
Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless steel is a durable and long-lasting material that is resistant to scratches and stains. Although highly durable, stainless does not have any natural nonstick qualities and will be no fun to use when cooking eggs or other delicate foods like pancakes.
Top Pick for Stainless Cookware: Viking 3-Ply
Viking’s 3-ply 17-piece set is the all-inclusive package. It’s perfect for anyone with tons of cupboard space and a desire to fill that with well-made vessels. This set has a full range of skillets, saucepans, a large sauté pan, and an eight-quart stock pot. Every gap is covered with this one, and the three-ply stainless core means this cookware is durable and will heat evenly.
Final Thoughts on Non-Sticks
Honestly, I believe it’s difficult to know, for certain, if modern non-sticks are truly safe. Many researchers and the FDA say PTFE is an inert material, but there are also many people who like to abide by the precautionary principle in these matters.
The main thing to remember is that nonstick cookware needs to be used at medium heat or lower to avoid burning its sensitive coating. Additionally, never use cooking sprays! They will ruin your pans and void the warranties.
If you have any questions about cookware sets or cooking materials, reach out to a Kitchen Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice.