Great chefs don’t need Teflon - neither do you

Recent news that the Teflon chemical, PFOA, (perfluorooctanoic acid,) is a likely human carcinogen has consumers scrambling for alternatives. Cautious cooks are looking for pots and pans which cook well without health risks. Instead of the latest in cookware, why not go for the tried and true.

Cast iron and good quality stainless steel are top choices for healthy cooking. Cast iron pans have been around for more than a century. They are so durable that they are passed down from one generation to the next.

Cast iron has been labeled the original nonstick surface. It requires a minimum of fat, and cleans easily. Some iron is released into food, but most North American’s are low in iron, so this isn’t considered a health problem.

A well seasoned cast iron pan holds heat well and browns food superbly. For pancakes and steaks, omlets and cakes, a cast iron frying pan is a versatile item.

New on the market are pre-seasoned cast iron pans made by Lodge, a US company which has been producing cast iron pans for over a century. This line, called Pro-logic, is pre- seasoned with food grade oil.

Frying pans are the easiest cast iron cookware to find. But cast iron comes in a wide range of pots, and even muffin pans and grills for both stove and BBQ. (Try or for a wide variety of cast iron cookware.)

Good quality stainless steel is another excellent choice for healthy cooking. You can find stainless steel cookware in almost any shape and size, including saucepans, soup pots, frying pans and utensils. Stainless steel is durable and long lasting. Stainless steel cookware is easy to find and less expensive than it once was. Look for cookware with a heavy bottom, which holds heat well and reduces scorching and sticking. Stainless steel cookware may have bottoms made of aluminum sandwiched between layers of stainless steel. Aluminum is not a health problem if it is not in contact with food. There are a number of excellent brands available, including Paderno, a PEI company, and Lagostina.

Stainless steel is made of a combination of metals, including iron, nickel and chromium. It should be cleaned with nylon or plastic scrubbing pads. Never scour with metal. Scratching stainless steel can result in the release of nickel or chromium in quantities that could be harmful.

Be aware that what is most important is the surface inside the pan. Cookware which is stainless steel on the outside but has a nonstick inside is not a healthy choice.

Vision cookware, a glass -ceramic mix, and Corning ware are also safe cooking options.
The hazards of aluminum are still being debated. Aluminum has been linked to Altzheimer’s disease, although this is not certain. What is known is that in certain situations, aluminum is more likely to leach out of pots and into food. Worn and pitted aluminum pots are more likely to release aluminum. Leafy vegetables and acidic foods like tomatoes are more likely to absorb aluminum. So if you are concerned about aluminum cookware, these are the situations you most want to avoid.

Pots and pans are now being made of anodized aluminum. Anodized aluminum has a harder surface than normal aluminum. It is more scratch resistant, durable and easy to clean. Anodization reduces the leaching of aluminum into food. But questions about aluminum remain. Any type of cookware made of aluminum is also available in stainless steel, which has no known hazards if used and cleaned properly.

Aluminum is less of a concern when used in cookie sheets, bread pans or other baking utensils where they are not likely to be in contact with acidic foods, and are not likely to be worn or pitted. For some baking needs, aluminum, silicone or nonstick coated aluminum may be the only options, and of these, aluminum may be the least hazardous.

For casseroles and other in-oven cooking, tempered glass (Pyrex, Anchor and other brands), Corning ware, enameled metals and unglazed terra cotta are all safe options. Most types of glazed ceramics are also safe. Glazed ceramics made in Canada, the US and Europe have to meet high standards and are unlikely to contain lead. Concerns about lead are greater with brightly coloured glazed ceramics from Mexico and Asia. Some of these products have been found to release lead, which is neurotoxic and very dangerous.

Much of the bakeware now on store shelves is made with a nonstick coating. All nonstick coatings presently on the market contain the problem chemical PFOA. As an alternative, look for cake pans and pie plates made of tempered glass or enameled metal. Pie plates made of terra cotta are beautiful and bake well. Bread can be baked in glass or terra cotta pans, in a cast iron skillet, on a ceramic baking sheet, or in uncoated aluminum pans. Muffin tins and bread pans are available in cast iron. They are hard to find, but they will last forever.
Muffin tins and cookie sheets are available in uncoated aluminum. Aluminum air-bake cookie sheets made of a double layer of aluminum with air in between make burnt cookies a thing of the past.

Silicone cookware is the new kid on the block. Its flexible and its cheerful colours make it popular. But is it safe? Health Canada says yes. They say that tests show silicone to be stable and inert, and that there are no known health hazards. But Health Canada also told us that Teflon was safe. A more reliable opinion comes from Debra Lynn Dadd. Author of Nontoxic, Nature and Earthwise and Home Safe Home, Dadd is a strong advocate for less toxic living. Dadd’s opinion is that “silicone bakeware and other kitchen utensils are safe to use.

“Silicones are made chemically by creating a "backbone" of silicon (from common sand) and oxygen molecules, a combination that does not occur in nature. Then various other synthetic molecules are added branching off of the main silicon-oxygen line to create hundreds of different silicones that range from liquids to rubbery solids,” Dadd writes. (Dadd's info packed website can be found at www. But some consumers report that silicone does offgas, and raise concerns that additives may include petroleum or other harmful ingredients. While silicone cookware may be funky and fun, there is not a lot of evidence yet about safety or harm. In the past, the health hazards of some new products, like Teflon, were not revealed for several decades. In the case of silicone, it might be more sensible to be cautious.

Generations of cooks produced first class meals and baked goods in the days before nonstick coatings. It may take a bit of adjustment to find just the right heat, baking time, or amount of oil to add to a pan, but with a little work, great meals can be yours without the health risks of nonstick cookware.

Helpful hints

Don’t put hot pans into cold water. This can cause pans to warp. A warped bottom does not distribute heat evenly, and food is more likely to stick.

If food sticks in a stainless steel pot, let it sit with water in it for a little while. Food can then be removed easily with a nylon scrub pad.

Clean cast iron with a small amount of detergent and water. Dry thoroughly. Putting a pan on the stove on low heat for a few minutes works will. Many tips on seasoning, care and cleaning of cast iron can be found at

Why avoid nonstick coatings?

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), every time an empty nonstick coated pan is used on medium to high heat the surface emits a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. PFOA has recently been labeled a likely human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

DuPont was fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for allegedly hiding data for years on serious health effects of exposure to PFOA.

PFOA has been found in the blood of almost all North Americans, including newborn babies.
Canada has negotiated an agreement with manufacturers of nonstick coatings to reformulate their coatings and their manufacturing process to decrease release of PFOA by 95% by 2010.