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Is Food Prepared in Teflon Pots and Pans Bad For You

No matter what you talk about these days, especially when it comes to food, somewhere, someone is telling the world that is a health hazard. The Internet is full of, “Aspartame is bad for you,,,”, ” Splenda is bad for you….”, “tomatoes are bad for you…”, Coffee is bad for you…”, “Meat is bad for you…”, ad infinitum…. So how is anyone supposed to make an informed decision about anything when there are so many Chicken-Littles running around crying, “The sky is falling!”

The best sage advice I can give anyone is to use the Scientific Method to examine any claims you have questions about. It is the only method proven to be able to determine the accuracy of anything stable by it. If you don’t know how to use the Scientific Method, learn it. it will serve you well.

Let’s test the method out on one of the more persistent claims of the doom-sayers, lately…namely that Teflon-coated cookware poses a health problem. So we start out with a question: Is food prepared in Teflon pots and pans bad for you? All scientific endeavors start out with a question. Now, the procedure is Investigation, preferably by direct observation, and field research. Next, we form a hypothesis (or idea) , then test that hypothesis through experimentation.

To begin, we need to research what Teflon is, and if it contains anything that could be harmful. Researching Teflon, we find that it is a brand name for Polytetraflouroethylene, or PTFE, a polymer made by Dupont since 1935. It was discovered by accident while trying to create a new chemical refrigerant for commercial freezers. It is a waxy-white plastic-like polymer than bonds very strongly with some metals. It is very slick, and organic material does not bond with it. It was first patented under the name Teflon, and mass-produced in the 1940s. It’s first use was in the Manhattan Project, at the K-25 Enrichment facility in Oak Ridge, Tn.(making the first atomic bomb). It was used successfully to coat and seal the pipes containing highly reactive uranium hexaflouride. In 1953, a French Engineer, Marc Grégoire, made the first Teflon-coated frying pan. In 1961, an American, Marion A. Trozzolo, who had been using Teflon in fishing equipment (reel bearings), marketed the first American Teflon-coated pan, called the ‘Happy Pan’, in 1961. The rest is history.

The formula for Teflon is: nF2C=CF2→ —{ F2C—CF2}— . If you have any background in chemistry, you know this tells us many things right from the start. It tells us that this is a thermoplastic polymer that will be solid at room temperatures, and have a melting point in excess of 620°F. We can determine the coefficient of friction and dielectric properties by manipulating the equation, but it’s enough to say that this chemical will be ultra-stable, and bind very strongly to metals, but not organic material. It is commonly used in many manufactured products such as Gore-Tex, shoe supports, radiometry, as an igniter for solid fuel rocket propellants, and as a coating for armor-piercing ammunition. It has very high corrosion resistance.

Does Teflon have any harmful chemicals in it? Is food prepared in Teflon pots and pans bad for you? As we said, Teflon is stable to around 620°F, way beyond even extreme cooking temperatures. But, if for some reason that temperature is exceeded, Teflon can begin to break-down, and create Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, or C-8), a suspected carcinogen (note the term “suspected”). However, under normal circumstances, this temperature would never be reached. Home stoves are not capable of reaching those temperatures, and cooking oils would ignite long before that point was reached, in any case. Experimental testing by both DuPont, and the EPA have shown no evidence of PFOA release at normal cooking temperatures. There have been no documented illnesses or deaths directly attributable to Teflon (except for being whacked on the head by a non-stick skillet….).

Further investigation would seem to shed more light on the idea that Teflon might be dangerous. It seems that there was a report (not a study) of a high mortality-rate of baby chickens at a commercial facility sometime prior to April of 2000 (Polytetrafluoroethylene gas intoxication in broiler chickens.
Boucher M, Ehmler TJ, Bermudez AJ. Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia, 65211, USA. Avian Dis. 2000 Apr-Jun;44(2):449-53). Apparently, two new broods of chicks experienced an 11% rate of mortality, up from the previous rate of 2.5%-4.7%. The chick expired from pulmonary congestion from an unknown cause. The only reason Teflon was even mentioned was because immediately prior to the chicks arrival, the bulbs in all the heat lamps had been replaced with Teflon-coated ones. However, Teflon poisoning was never identified as the cause of death. It was merely coincidental. For all anyone knows, the chicks could’ve been sick before they arrived. And the problem, whatever it was, corrected itself. No further problems were noted in future broods.

Somehow, this report started a witch-hunt for Teflon-poisoned birds. Veterinarians were blaming pet bird deaths on the use of Teflon cookware, even though there was absolutely no direct evidence of PFOA poisoning (it is doubtful as to whether a veterinarian would even have the equipment to make that determination). All reports of bird deaths from Teflon are purely anecdotal, with nothing to back them up. My question is this: Anecdotal evidence is not sufficient as proof for Bigfoot, UFOs, or the Loch Ness Monster, so why all the hub-bub over Teflon? The reason is that, because of these stories, the EPA now has something do to justify it’s existence. They have worked with DuPont to test the safety of Teflon, and even though Teflon passed with flying colors, just to pacify the EPA so it looks like they did something, DuPont voluntarily agreed to modify it’s manufacturing process by 2015, to make it even safer, just in case. Politics never ceases to amaze me……

So the bottom line is that there have been absolutely no documented illnesses or deaths that could be directly attributable to the use of Teflon, other than direct violence. Restaurants use Teflon cookware extensively, and have for quite some time, because it works. You wear Teflon everyday, and many things in your house, business and car use it. Out of all the things you could worry about, Teflon should be way down on your list. Now that you know the truth, you don’t have to keep wondering…Is food prepared in Teflon pots and pans bad for you?

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