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Everyday I have to cook using some share kitchenware, and I came across some old non-sticky frying pan that have significant scratch marks on them.

I was told by my parents that I should not use any non-sticky cookware with scratch marks on them, they said cooking with them will cause some harmful/toxic substance release to the food. I have asked if they got any reference to that claim but they never told me about it. I just don't understand if those non-sticky layer can contaminate my food, why it will only be dangerous when there is scratch marks on them but not in normal condition.

Could anyone tell me those frying pans are safe to use? Although there are new one in the share kitchen which I can use, I would still like to know if that safety issue is true. It would be nice if there is also reference given.

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  • Is it fair to assume that you're referring to teflon coated (aka 'non-stick') pans? Because I personally prefer pans not using non-stick pans, but not ones that are sticky.
    – Joe
    Feb 14, 2016 at 17:17
  • @Joe Yes, I'm talking about those Teflon coated non-sticky pan
    – Edison
    Feb 14, 2016 at 17:31
  • It sounds like this has an answer here: biology.stackexchange.com/q/20876/6142 but then again, you have an article like this ... telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinkadvice/11643213/…
    – Ming
    Feb 15, 2016 at 2:20
  • Once a PTFE coating gets flaky, more and more will eventually get ripped off (by being mechanically levered off by anything that gets jammed below it/against the edge, or by corrosion underneath) and end up in the food. Some claim these flakes will, some say they won't harm you. Feb 15, 2016 at 10:55

1 Answer 1

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Related question here. A few years back, I spent a lot of time researching this issue over at Chowhound. There have probably been hundreds of scientific studies on this stuff, so you can read about some of them I found over there.

I haven't looked at this in a few years, but my understanding is that most people tend to be concerned about products from off-gassing when Teflon is heated. The concern about "flaking" Teflon pans seems to be that you might ingest small pieces of the coating. However, that inert solid form of Teflon seems to be the least concerning from a health perspective. If there is a potential safety problem with Teflon (and I'm not really convinced there is), it's something that might come from gases, not from ingestion of the solid form. (Also, this is not unique to Teflon: keep in mind that inhalation of fumes -- which takes a substance directly to the bloodstream -- often results in much more significant exposure for many substances than ingestion.)

I suppose another element of concern comes from people who have heard that overheating a Teflon pan will cause danger. They therefore assume if the pan is damaged during overheating that consumption of the remaining Teflon bits will be hazardous. However, again, the main concern -- if there is one -- is in the potential gases, not the solid form.

The current scientific consensus seems to be that ingestion of small quantities of Teflon is not a hazard. When it degrades or flakes, it remains very inert -- which means it won't react with just about anything, including your body or digestive system.

Bottom line: IF you're concerned about Teflon (for whatever reason), you shouldn't cook with it at all. The hazard posed by flaking pans is NOT greater than intact ones. The only greater concern is that your food will tend to stick more.

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  • The answer is a good one overall, but it seems to suggest that Teflon can exist as a gas at high temperatures. The gases in question are actually decomposition products, not Teflon itself; just like wood smoke is no longer wood. The Teflon that doesn't burn should still be safe to ingest. See ewg.org/research/canaries-kitchen/teflon-offgas-studies for a list of the gases produced by overheating Teflon. The gases in question can be deadly to birds, but generally only produce a flu-like illness (polymer fume fever) in humans. Still, not something you'd want to have.
    – mrog
    Feb 18, 2016 at 23:08
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    @mrog: you're obviously correct, which is why I repeatedly referred to "products from off-gassing" and "in the potential gases" (plural). I never implied that Teflon itself would be vaporized, but I didn't want to cite actual decomposition products, because the ones people are concerned about don't tend to actually appear in off-gassing in kitchens (as you can see in my research at the link). I was trying to avoid the whole discussion of fumes entirely (since it's not really relevant and likely to provoke argument), but I thought it was important to clarify why flaking is different.
    – Athanasius
    Feb 20, 2016 at 17:03
  • Thanks for the post. Now I wonder, speculating on smoke, about the following. I have heard that meat one eats from a barbecue typically contains a far greater amount of carcinogenic substance(s) in the smoke residue on the meat, than the smoke one would breathe while near the barbecue. However, is it still likely that the smoke is more carcinogenic than the meat, because, as you say, inhalation results in far more exposure inside one's body than does ingestion?
    – Cerberus
    May 31, 2023 at 2:15
  • @Cerberus--You might try asking a specific question on that. Briefly, my response was specifically regarding Teflon, whose solid degradation products are supposed to be chemically inert (and hopefully not harmful). What you're talking about with BBQ is a different matter: high heat produces carcinogens (like free radicals) from many foods, both potentially in the smoke and in the food itself. Which is a greater risk factor probably depends on circumstances, and I think studies about actual cancer incidence are quite hard to sort out. But potential carcinogens are present in many grilled meats.
    – Athanasius
    Jun 1, 2023 at 17:48

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