A new study finds that a small crack on a Teflon-coated pan can release thousands to millions of microplastic particles while cooking. Bon appétit!
The science and other stuff to know
People around the world use nonstick pots and pans for their everyday cooking. According to Grand View Research, the global nonstick cookware market demand was 206.1 million units in 2020. This demand is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent up to 2028.
While these pans are perfect for flipping pancakes, turning sausages, and frying eggs, there’s controversy around their nonstick coatings, such as Teflon.
A team of scientists from Newcastle University and Flinders University in Australia claims Teflon-coated pans can contaminate food and pose health risks. In their paper published in Science of The Total Environment, these researchers claim a “broken Teflon coating may lead to a release of 2.3 million microplastics and nanoplastics.” Even more alarming, the team says just a single crack on the surface could leave behind approximately 9,100 plastic particles.
“The non-stick coating material Teflon is generally a family member of PFAS,” University of Newcastle researcher Cheng Fang said in a statement. PFAS are a group of chemicals that don’t break down in the environment, contaminate soil and water, and build up in our bodies.
“Given the fact PFAS is a big concern, these Teflon microparticles in our food might be a health concern,” Fang added. “So they need investigating because we don’t know much about these emerging contaminants.”
To avoid contaminating the environment or your food with Teflon, researchers recommend using soft turners or non-sharp utensils that don’t scratch the coating during cooking and cleaning. And the second you notice a scratch on the nonstick coating, you should replace the pan immediately.
“In our daily lives, we have lots of plastic items surrounding us,” Fang said. “Most of them can gradually release microplastics and nanoplastics in their lifetimes, as tested and confirmed in this study.”
Professor Youhong Tang, from the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders University, added: “[This] gives us a strong warning that we must be careful about selecting and using cooking utensils to avoid food contamination.”
Despite eye-opening findings, the study team acknowledged the difficulty in measuring plastic particles in microscopic sizes. The team stated more research is needed “to address the risk assessment of Teflon microplastics and nanoplastics” to humans and the environment.