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A. The answer is not clear-cut, but we’re hanging on to ours. Here’s why:
Tests have shown that, when superheated (to temperatures above 550°F), nonstick-coated pans release gaseous fumes, which have been linked to flulike symptoms in humans and the deaths of pet birds. The problem appears to lie with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in the processing of Teflon and other nonstick cookware. PFOA has many other applications—it is used, for example, in the package coating of some brands of microwaveable popcorn, in water-resistant clothing and in some building materials. Trace amounts of PFOA have been found in the blood of virtually every American tested, but it is not known if cookware is the main culprit. The EPA has reached a voluntary agreement with eight manufacturers of PFOA worldwide to eliminate the chemical from all consumer goods by 2015.
Research by both public entities (the EPA) and private companies (DuPont, makers of Teflon) is under way to better understand the danger PFOA in cookware poses to consumers. In the meantime, Karen Collins, R.D., nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research, says, “It is a concern, and it merits continued attention, but there simply isn’t enough data to know whether or not it poses a risk.”
In the EatingWell Test Kitchen, we are taking what we feel is a sensible but cautious approach.
Since problems seem to be linked with superheating the pans, we avoid doing so. We never heat an empty pan, and never heat oil to its smoking point. In other words, we keep the heat under 550°F. We also use only utensils approved for nonstick surfaces, which minimizes flaking. But for cooks looking for an alternative, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan is a good choice.