Teflon: Do the Health-Risk Claims Stick?

The FDA approved the non-stick miracle Teflon for use in cookware in 1960. Now Teflon coatings are everywhere--except culinary institutes' kitchens, that is.

Teflon Troubles

Proper equipment use and food safety are the foundation of chef training at any culinary institute. That's why Teflon, a staple in most home and some commercial kitchens, is noticably absent in culinary institutes and upscale restaurants. When used improperly, Teflon can break down and release a deadly chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. About 95 percent of all Americans have traces of PFOA in their blood.

Training for the Teflon Chef

At many culinary institutes, your chef training will teach you to use high-end copper pans and iron skillets, which generally work better and are 100 percent Teflon-free. For those heading for a culinary career as a commercial chef, however, proper Teflon training can be indispensable.

Whether your Teflon training is a by-product of chef training or personal preference, avoid the following safety risks:

  • High Temperatures. Teflon can break down and release PFOA fumes at high temperatures. The threshold temperature may be as high as 600 degrees, but it's best to avoid excessive heat altogether.
  • Surface Scratches. Anyone who has used Teflon knows that the surface can scratch, especially when metal utensils are used. This can release flakes of Teflon into the food. Always use plastic utensils and clean the pan with a soft sponge - never steel wool.
  • Temperature Changes. Sudden changes to the pan's temperature can destabilize the surface, potentially releasing toxins. Avoid plunging the pan into cold water.

Teflon and Your Culinary Career: What's the Verdict?

Teflon presents little danger when used properly. The EPA finds "no reason for consumers to stop using [Teflon]... at the present time." Still, most culinary institutes rely on non-Teflon cookware for their chef training, so why not stick with it?