Teflon – does it harm our health?

David

Teflon is a material that is mainly discussed in the context of its harmfulness. Apparently, the heated coating of this material gives off toxic fumes, and the scratched Teflon pan is carcinogenic. Meanwhile, everyday use of Teflon is completely safe. How is this possible? Check what use Teflon has found and when it can be really harmful to health.


What is teflon?

Teflon is the trade name of a widely used chemical compound - polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Teflon was invented in 1938 by Dr Roy Plunkett, working for DuPont in New Jersey.

PTFE was created by accident during research into a new coolant. The scientist noticed at some point that tetrafluoroethylene in the form of gas escaped from the bottle. He weighed it before refilling and registered that the weight of the bottle was slightly different.

Interested in the phenomenon checked what is inside on the surface of the bottle. It was a slippery, waxy substance - Teflon. The sale of Teflon began in 1946 by Chemours - a daughter company of DuPont.

Teflon has been used as a coating in pans, pots and kitchen utensils since the 1960s. Chemours is constantly improving its flagship product, making it even more resistant to scratches, damage, flaking and chipping, and extending the life of the accessories in which it is used.

Chemical structure of the teflon
Chemical structure of the teflon

Teflon - properties

The whole large molecule is made up of only two elements, carbon forming the Teflon chain, and fluorine, which is carbon substituents. PTFE has numerous properties, thanks to which it has found wide application. Belong to them

Teflon - application

Teflon is most often associated with non-stick pans. However, this material can be found virtually anywhere - in fabrics and carpets, preventing the formation of stains, nail varnishes, hair styling products, inside pipes in installations that come into contact with corrosive chemicals, lubricants, prostheses, and even atomic bombs.

Teflon - an impact on health

Teflon is considered completely safe for health. This is confirmed by toxicological studies. There is no mechanism of toxicity for oral PTFE. The lack of toxicity is most likely due to three factors

Teflon is not carcinogenic or genotoxic. It does not disturb male and female fertility in any way, it does not affect the course of pregnancy. It is also not an allergen and does not stimulate the immune system. Does not cause skin sensitization. PTFE does not cross the blood-brain barrier even when injected directly into the blood. There is no neurotoxic effect.

Numerous studies have ruled out any harmful effects of Teflon. They also showed that it is excreted from the body with faeces in unchanged form.

Is the scratched Teflon pans harmful?

Teflon, or actually PTFE, used as a non-stick coating in pans, pots and kitchen accessories prevents food from sticking and burning during cooking and facilitates washing, because dirt from the Teflon coating goes off easier.

PTFE coated dishes allow you to use less fat during frying or eliminate it completely, which is especially important for people who need to follow an easily digestible diet and a fat-reducing diet. Currently used modern high-quality Teflon does not require manual washing. Pans with this coating can be washed in dishwashers. The maximum temperature to which vessels with a Teflon coating can be heated is 250 Celsius degrees.

Above this temperature, toxic gases begin to emit, which negatively affect health, and the melting of PTFE occurs at temperatures above 350 degrees C. However, temperatures during frying usually do not exceed 220 Celsius degrees. Therefore, health risk is unlikely.

Each, even the best Teflon coating, after some time begins to peel and chip off. It can also be accidentally scratched when using unsuitable cooking accessories. Are Teflon splinters that end up in food harmful? No, Teflon alone is completely harmless because it is not digested, metabolized or absorbed. It is completely indifferent to health and completely excreted from the body with feces.

The health risk that may arise from the use of scratched pans with a damaged Teflon coating may be associated with easier release of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) - a compound that is still used in the production of Teflon. PFOA participates in the production of Teflon from which it is removed.

However, small amounts of PFOA remain in Teflon. This compound is classified as potentially carcinogenic to humans. Since 2015, the largest Teflon producer in the world has eliminated PFOA from the production process. However, among others in China it is still widely used.

Is PFOA a real health hazard?

Research estimates that exposure to this compound resulting from the incorrect use of scratched pans and their overheating is the least significant source of PFOA in the body. Larger amounts get into the body as a result of contact with non-stick carpets, home textiles and clothing. There is no need to give up using Teflon pans and other kitchen utensils. However, they should not be overheated.

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