The two main PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) have made non-stick cookware successful. But, since they are classified as carcinogenic, we cook less calmly. Are glass, cast iron, ceramic, stainless steel utensils safer?

What are the risks with kitchen utensils containing PFOA and PFOS?

In December 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it had classified PFOA as “carcinogenic to humans” and PFOS “may be carcinogenic to humans”. The manufacture and use of these most widespread PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have already been banned in Europe in 2009 and 2020 , notably in Teflon non-stick pans . The fact remains that many of us cook with these utensils, and not with peace of mind.  

Why should a scratched pan be thrown in the trash?

“As long as the coating is not damaged, it appears that migration of PFAS into food is low during cooking. On the other hand, scratched non-stick pans should no longer be used and should be taken to the recycling center,” says Mathieu Ben Braham of the NGO Générations Futures. An Australian study showed that damaged pans could release thousands or even millions of Teflon nanoplastics when cooked .

A bill aimed at banning the manufacturing of products containing PFAS in certain sectors is currently being discussed in Parliament in France. But PFAS in kitchen utensils will not be affected : deputies excluded them from the text during a vote on Thursday April 4, 2024, in the National Assembly.

Replacing our old cookware with safer options is no easy task: manufacturers have no obligation to indicate precisely what their coating contains. We take stock.

Ceramic kitchen utensils: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of ceramic : practical, it offers comfort of use thanks to its non-stick coating.

Its disadvantages and health risks : traces of PFAS have been found in ceramic pans, according to a survey of 60 Million consumers . If the comfort of non-stick products is an important criterion for you, opt for a French manufacturer who is transparent about the composition of its material.

The average price : around €50.

Cast iron pans and saucepans: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of cast iron : ultra-resistant, cast iron is even said to be scratch-resistant.

Its disadvantages and health risks : in contact with detergent and water, cast iron rusts. On a daily basis, do not let your utensils soak, wipe them and coat them with oil before storing them.

The average price : around €80.

Aluminum kitchen utensils: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of aluminum : Untreated, aluminum   accessories are the cheapest option. Anodized aluminum is a safer choice than classic aluminum, it is more resistant.

Its disadvantages and health risks : when cooking, aluminum particles can dissolve in foods, particularly acidic ones like tomatoes. But the Canadian Public Health Agency estimates that less than 2 mg of aluminum emanates from these dishes, which poses few health risks.

The average price : around €20.

Stainless steel pots and pans: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of stainless steel : stainless steel pots and pans are robust, resistant to wear and corrosion, and are not treated with a non-stick coating. 18/10 stainless steel is preferred.

Its disadvantages and health risks : traces of iron, nickel and chromium – the components of steel – can be found in food. But the doses are very low and pose no health risk, according to the Canadian Public Health Agency. In case of nickel allergy, stainless steel is not recommended.

The average price : around €70.

Glass kitchen utensils: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of glass : an inert material that does not react with food, borosilicate glass (Pyrex) also withstands large temperature variations.

Its disadvantages and health risks : colored glasses can contain toxic concentrations of cadmium and lead. Therefore, prefer untinted glass.

The average price : around €20.

Copper pots and pans: advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of copper : a material prized by great chefs, copper is ideal for cooking at high temperatures. Old copper batteries are generally covered with tin, a metal presenting few health risks, but not very robust. Stainless steel, more resistant, is now preferred.

Its disadvantages and health risks : as soon as the first scratches appear on the bottom of pans covered with tin, they should no longer be used due to the release of copper particles. Then contact a tinner, who will apply a new layer of tin.

The average price: around €100.

Is a non-stick coating “guaranteed without PFOA or PFOS” a good idea?

This mention is, in reality, falsely reassuring...

Problematic PFAS have, of course, been ruled out, but manufacturers have replaced them with other PFAS to synthesize Teflon. A regrettable substitution which is not without risks. Pierre Labadie, chemist

Among the substitutes, we find in particular HFPO-DA using GenX technology, a name sometimes found on labels. A product to avoid, as it has been classified as “very concerning” by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) due to its likely serious effects on human health and the environment. This substance is suspected of being toxic to the liver, kidneys and immune system; to be carcinogenic, but also to act as an endocrine disruptor. “If you want to limit your exposure to PFAS, it is better to avoid “Teflon-coated” or non-stick utensils,” summarizes the chemist.