The term “PFOA-free” is often used as a selling point for cookware brands. But what does it mean? PFOA-free cookware is cookware that does not contain PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, a harmful chemical that was once a key ingredient in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware.
PFOA has been phased out in most cookware due to health concerns. But, while most cookware today is PFOA-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely safe. In this article, we’ll review some key questions, including:
Let’s get into it.
What Is PFOA-Free Cookware?
PFOA-free cookware refers to cooking utensils, such as pans and pots, that do not contain the chemical compound perfluorooctanoic acid. In the context of cookware, PFOA is often used as a crucial component of Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is more commonly known by the brand name Teflon. Teflon is one of the most frequently used types of nonstick coatings.
Both PFOA and PTFE are types of chemicals known as PFAS [per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances], a large class of chemicals used in lots of different products, including nonstick cookware. More on the safety of PFAS later.
PFOA’s role in cookware manufacturing was to act as a binder for PTFE, assisting in the process of spreading the nonstick coating evenly across the surface of the cookware. This resulted in a smooth and durable finish, making your pancakes flip effortlessly and your scrambled eggs slide right off the pan.
However, when cookware is denoted as PFOA-free, it means that the nonstick coating has been achieved without the use of this particular synthetic compound.
Why Is PFOA Dangerous?
PFOA is considered dangerous due to its potential health risks.
The major concern stems from PFOA’s extremely persistent nature – it does not break down easily in the environment or in the human body, which means it can accumulate over time.
Studies have suggested that exposure to PFOA may be linked to various health problems, including high cholesterol, thyroid disease, kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage, and even developmental issues in infants and children.
How Does PFOA in Cookware Expose Us to the Chemical?
PFOA (and other PFAS chemicals) can leach into food during cooking, especially when the nonstick surface is scratched or begins to wear down.
Furthermore, in circumstances where nonstick cookware containing PFOA or other PFAS chemicals is overheated (above 464°F, according to chemical manufacturing company DuPont’s studies), toxic fumes may be released into the air, posing an inhalation risk.
Therefore, the move towards PFOA-free cookware is a critical aspect of ensuring consumer health and safety.
Is All Cookware Today PFOA-Free?
Using PFOA in PTFE production was standard practice in the US cookware industry until around 2013. By now, most of the mainstream brands, including Teflon, have made the switch to PFOA-free production methods and PFOA-free cookware.
Here’s how that happened: In 2006, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and eight major chemical manufacturing companies agreed to stop producing PFOA in the US due to health concerns. This agreement is known as the PFOA Stewardship Program. These companies agreed to eliminate PFOA from products by 2015 at the latest. So, you can be sure that any piece of nonstick cookware you buy from a reputable brand today is likely to be PFOA-free.
While most brands today are PFOA-free, it’s always worth checking the product specifications or the manufacturer’s information to be sure, especially when purchasing from lesser-known brands, brands from non-US or EU countries (other countries may have looser regulations), or older stock.
Unfortunately, just because a piece of cookware is PFOA-free does not mean it is perfectly safe. Head to the next section to learn about the dangers of the chemicals used to replace PFOA in cookware.
Is PFOA-Free Cookware Actually Safe? The Dangers of PFAS Chemicals in Nonstick Cookware
Since PFOA cookware went out of fashion, many cookware manufacturers have simply turned to other chemicals they claim are safer to create nonstick coatings: other PFAS chemicals.
PFOA is just one type of PFAS used in the creation of PTFE (aka Teflon) nonstick coatings for cookware. And when it comes to PFAS in cookware, the jury is either out, or has decided that yes, PFAS are guilty of causing health problems!
One example of a questionable replacement for PFOA is GenX, a trade name for a PFAS chemical used to make high-performance nonstick coatings like Teflon without the use of PFOA. While manufacturers claim that GenX is a safer alternative, studies have linked GenX to a variety of health concerns.
There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, many of which haven’t been studied. The ones that have, such as PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), have been associated with health concerns.
Given the potential risks associated with PFAS chemicals, it’s essential to consider cookware made from knowingly safe PFAS-free materials, such as cast iron, stainless steel, or ceramic.
When it comes down to it, we recommend avoiding Teflon and PTFE-based nonstick cookware entirely! As the adage goes, better safe than sorry.
How to Tell if Cookware Is PFOA-Free (and Completely Safe!)
- Look for labels: Cookware is often labeled as PFOA-free in the product description. This is a good starting point, but remember, the absence of PFOA doesn’t guarantee the absence of all PFAS substances.
- Contact the manufacturer: If you’re in doubt about the product’s composition, reach out to the manufacturer directly for information.
- Avoid old cookware: Refrain from using nonstick cookware older than 2015, and be cautious about second-hand nonstick cookware. As we now know, regulations for PFOA use in cookware became stricter over time.
- Trust reputable brands: Choose brands that are transparent about their manufacturing practices. Trust is crucial when it comes to your health!
- Be careful with heat: If you do use PTFE-based nonstick cookware, avoid overheating it. The coating starts to degrade at around 464°F, potentially releasing toxic fumes.
In our bid to promote safer alternatives, we have compiled a guide featuring the best choices for healthy, non-toxic cookware.
Looking for nonstick cookware options specifically? Check out our guide to the best nonstick pans without Teflon.
You can trust these options for a healthier cooking experience. Remember, the best defense is an informed choice. Stay safe, and happy cooking!