Teflon has revolutionized the lives of cooks. What a pleasure to make a fried egg without half sticking to the bottom of the pan! But over the uses and washes, the cookware shows signs of wear and gradually loses its non-stick coating. Beyond seeing their efficiency decrease, damaged cooking utensils present a real danger to health by releasing thousands of plastic particles.
A study published in Science of The Total Environment and relayed by ScienceAlert reveals that some 9,100 tiny particles are released when a pan or saucepan covered with Teflon is cracked and seep into our food.
To arrive at this result and assess the risk involved, the Australian research team used Raman spectroscopy, which is a technique for analyzing molecular structure. The goal was to observe microplastics (less than 5 millimeters in size) as well as nanoplastics (millions of times smaller) present on a Teflon finish. In addition, tailor-made algorithms have been designed by scientists to calculate the quantity likely to end up in our dishes.
To make the experiment a reality, the researchers then cut one of the non-stick utensils into pieces and simulated a cooking process using record players. The numbers speak for themselves: A coating in very poor condition can release up to 2.3 million particles during the preparation of a meal, based on a cooking time of just 30 seconds.
Two tips to avoid food contamination
Questions remain about the impact on our health. Teflon, otherwise known as polytetrafluoroethylene, is a member of the family of “eternal chemicals” that are of particular concern due to the various medical risks associated with them.
The frequency of the release of plastic particles remains unknown and encourages further research, “especially given the dangerousness of Teflon”, says Youhong Tang, materials engineer from Flinders University in Australia. To remedy this problem, manufacturers are trying to make the coatings more resistant.
In the meantime, putting old pots and pans out of use is highly recommended. “It is essential to be rigorous in the selection and use of kitchen utensils to prevent food contamination”advises the Australian engineer.
And above all, ban any sharp object when using your cookware: your utensils really don’t need your help to get damaged.