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Nervous About Nonstick?

Cook-Smart Precautions continued...

Do people still cook on high, despite manufacturers' instructions? "There's no statistical answer to that question," says the FDA's Honigfort. But you know if you're doing it, and if you are, the consensus is clear: It would be safer if you stopped. (Since some people won't switch to medium, or will overheat accidentally if distracted, says Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group, "we recommend that people simply phase out the use of nonstick pans.") To play it safe, set your knob to medium or low and don't place your nonstick cookware over so-called power burners (anything above 12,000 BTUs on a gas stove or 2,400 watts on an electric range); those burners, seen more often in recent years, are intended for tasks like boiling a large pot of water quickly.

  1. Ventilate your kitchen. When cooking, turn on the exhaust fan to help clear away any fumes.
  2. Don't broil or sear meats. Those techniques require temperatures above what nonstick can usually handle.
  3. Choose a heavier nonstick pan. Lightweight pans generally heat up fastest, so invest in heavier-weight cookware — it's worth the extra money.
  4. Avoid chipping or damaging the pan. We've all been told not to use metal utensils on nonstick pans. Newer products may be harder to chip, "because the adhesion between the pan and the nonstick coating is better," says Honigfort. Still, if pans do chip or flake, they may be more likely to release toxic compounds, says Kannan of the New York State Department of Health. To prevent scratching, use wooden spoons to stir food, avoid steel wool, and don't stack these pans. (If you do, put a paper towel liner between them.)

How long can you expect your nonstick cookware to last? DuPont's estimate, based on moderate usage, is three to five years. Some experts, like Kannan, advise replacing your nonstick cookware every couple of years. What should you do if the pan does become damaged? A clear answer, from Kannan: Throw it out.

 

Originally published on November 13, 2007

 

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