Cooking with pans coated in Teflon (a DuPont trademarked name) can be handy because of its nonstick properties, but it can also release toxic fumes. Teflon contains perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, which are released as fumes when the pans are heated at high temperatures—these fumes have been known to kill pet birds in the kitchen and cause flu-like symptoms in humans.
As part of its Healthy Home Tip series, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has a list of recommendations for people to reduce their exposure to these chemical fumes. (Eating flakes that chip off nonstick cookware is apparently not toxic because solid Teflon flakes are inert.)
Manufacturer labels warn against overheating Teflon, but what’s too hot? EWG’s tests showed pans exceeded the recommended temperature within two to five minutes of being heated on a conventional stovetop.
EWG’s key recommendations: Though there are a number of newly developed alternative nonstick bakeware available, EWG says they don’t know enough about them to consider them safe. So, they say, stick with what is known: stainless steel and cast iron cookware.
If you keep using non-stick cookware, EWG advises to never preheat it at high heat, as empty pans get hot fast; heat food at the lowest possible temperature to cook it safely; use an exhaust fan over the stove; keep pet birds out of the kitchen; don’t use the self-cleaning function on your oven as it cleans by heating to high temps, which can release toxic fumes from Teflon parts inside the oven. When you are in the market for cookware, choose a safer alternative, the group says.