You are so careful with the foods you buy, choose organic (especially when it comes to ingredients on the EEC Dirty Dozen list), and do your diligence to find only the cleanest, most sustainable options for your family. But doing that work in relation to cookware is just as important, if not more important, as there is a lot of misinformation out there in the industry. To help you find the best non-stick cookware for you, we’ve rounded up our list of recommended non-toxic, non-stick cookware brands. To learn more about why this is so important, read on!
The world of non-stick cookware is more complicated than ever. The point of contention has always been how PTFE non-stick coatings (AKA Teflon) were made: with toxic PFOAs. But while PFOAs were phased out from non-stick cookware production under pressure from the EPA, did you know the industry simply swapped out another similar chemical called Gen X?
To the industry to hear, this Gen X is safer than PFOA. In reality, these claims remain unproven, and emerging evidence suggests long-term health effects. Who wants to use their families as guinea pigs? Not us.
As consumers, our health and safety are victims of secret industries and a regulatory environment with a track record that is far from reassuring. We can either fall victim to a lack of transparency or we can be informed and use our buying power to reward companies that make healthier, greener cookware.
How chemicals used to make PTFE cookware were regulated
As the timeline above shows, regulating the things used to make our cookware has a long, tangled history.
Since its inception in 1970, PFOA had not been regulated for 31 years – until the EPA pressured chemical companies to “voluntarily” phase them out.
And while the Toxic Substance Control Act was passed in 1976, 44 years later (and counted!), Regulations and repairs for chemical contamination of PFOA are still in the works. Not to mention the parent class of chemicals (PFAS) that PFOA belongs to also remains unregulated.
If you’re curious to have a full picture of what happened, we’ve made a timeline here. But if you are after the TL; DR … Find PFOA chemicals that have outlasted butterfly clips, Nokia phones and boybands and used in the manufacture of our cookware and other PTFE products until 2015. These “forever chemicals” end up in our water supplies and blood, which has several long-term health effects.
The EPA is currently working on cleanups and reparations.
The dangers of PFAS chemicals today
PFOA is not a laughing matter. While the final product PTFE will certainly help you fry eggs without fat, PFOA has been linked to a number of health conditions, including cancer, decreased vaccination response, elevated liver enzymes, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, and preeclampsia. And according to human biomonitoring studies, it is present in most people’s blood today.
This is due not only to its longstanding presence in cookware and other items, but also to the unregulated introduction of these long-lived chemicals into waterways over time. Researchers from the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University found last year that at least 610 drinking water sources in 43 states were contaminated with potentially unsafe PFAS levels. It is estimated that more than 19 million people are exposed nationwide.
Gen X chemicals are the newest commonly used ingredients for nonstick coatings. As a type of PFAS, these compounds are purportedly less toxic than PFOAs, but a lack of adequate testing leaves these claims far from airtight.
With the EPA’s sluggish regulatory action (see above), there is growing concern that Gen X chemicals could also pose a risk to the environment and public health.
Not only do the chemicals used to make PTFE non-stick cookware pose a risk to the environment, but the coatings themselves are also subject to severe limitations. PTFE-based coating fumes have also been shown to kill pets (especially birds) when heated above 500 ° F and can even cause “polymer fume fever” when inhaled.
And just because cookware is labeled “PFOA-free” doesn’t mean it was necessarily made without PFAS chemicals. If you can verify that the coating is PTFE based, Gen X will likely be used during production. If the brand isn’t transparent about how they safely dispose of PFAS chemicals during production, choose one of the many safe, non-toxic, and non-sticky alternatives instead (see our guide to cleaning cookware).
Quick guide to finding clean, healthy non-stick cookware
Like you, we’ve been looking for clean, non-toxic cookware for years. We have tried many brands and unfortunately, many pans fall behind and fail to deliver on their promises.
In our research, we have tried to find cookware with safe and seasonal cooking surfaces that have non-stick properties.
Keep the following tips in mind when shopping:
1. Be careful with too cheap cookware.
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is! Cheap non-stick cookware can chip and break up into your food faster (and let the aluminum core under the coating itself flow into what you’re cooking). Look for cookware brands that are committed to protecting the environment and whose craftsmanship gives cookware a long lifespan and makes it a worthwhile investment.
2. Choose the right materials.
If you choose to avoid PFOAs entirely, carbon steel, cast iron, and ceramic pans are often good choices. But even these surfaces have their limits, and it’s important to understand the properties of the cooking materials you choose.
For example, stainless steel and cast iron have been shown to emit heavy metals such as nickel and iron when they come into contact with acidic foods. While trace amounts are safe for most people, nickel can cause allergic contact dermatitis, according to the Agency’s Register of Toxic Substances and Diseases.
Cast iron, in particular, can also incorporate a significant amount of iron into food. Of all micronutrients, iron is one of the riskiest overload factors. While this is less of a concern for some groups than others (vegetarians, menstruating women, and people prone to anemia), it could be a problem for others, especially those who eat a lot of red meat. If you suspect your iron is low or high, ask your doctor and have your iron levels tested. Another tip: look for enameled cast iron cookware.
According to a study published in 2017, cheap aluminum is another potentially problematic material that can lead to lead contamination if the pan is not anodized or has a non-stick coating. To avoid this problem, buy from brands that manufacture in regions with heavy production from regulators like the United States or the European Union.
3. Take a test drive.
If you are unsure which brand or type of cookware is right for you, you should just buy one pan from each line and try it at home! Once you’ve found the cookware you like, you can shop up (or mix and match) the rest of the line to create a versatile and eclectic personal collection of pans that do what they do best: non-stick ceramics for low and medium heat cooking for example and carbon steel, stainless steel or cast iron for searing). If there’s a pan that you won’t fall in love with on your quest, consider giving it to a friend or donating it to a charity like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Goodwill to ensure it has a long and fruitful life.
Now that you know, you can make good decisions about your home, your health, and your planet. If you need guidance, take our Chef’s Quiz and we’ll give you more specific recommendations.
In relation to bio-authority:
“Forever Chemicals” In Your Bottled Water: Is It Safe To Drink?
4 Clean the cookware brands to keep toxins out of your meals
5 non-toxic baked goods and our top brand picks