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Can Your Cookware Make You Sick?

I recently saw this article about researchers at Northwestern University who have discovered a simple method to break down dangerous chemicals called PFAS. As the article says, PFAS are “called “forever chemicals” for a reason. Bacteria can’t eat them; fire can’t incinerate them; and water can’t dilute them. And, if these toxic chemicals are buried, they leach into surrounding soil, becoming a persistent problem for generations to come.” Hopefully the new method they have developed can be commercialized, but the need is huge.

PFAS are a large class of similar chemicals that are commonly used in nonstick cookware, waterproof cosmetics, firefighting foams, water-repellent fabrics and products that resist grease and oil. Unfortunately, PFAS are now found widely in the environment, including in drinking water and even in the blood of 97% of the U.S. population. PFAS exposure is associated with decreased fertility, developmental effects in children, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension, reduced immunity and increased cholesterol levels. They may also be associated with liver disease.

Fortunately, with the 2022 Infrastructure law, the Biden administration is taking on PFAS and working to eliminate them from our environment. The EPA recently classified several types of PFAS as unsafe — even at trace levels. “Recently, the EPA revised its recommendations for PFOA essentially down to zero,” said Northwestern’s William Dichtel. “That puts several PFAS into the same category as lead.” Read more about EPA’s efforts to limit PFAS.

So with all this new attention, and funding, nonstick cookware is safe now right? Well not really. Are PFAS still used in cookware? It seems so. Here is the FDA list of “Authorized Uses of PFAS in Food Contact Applications”. You can see that it specifically lists:

  • Nonstick Cookware: In addition to the familiar non-stick frying pan, this includes anything with a coating – many cookie sheets, muffin tins, waffle makers, rice cookers, griddles and other pots and pans.
  • Paper/paperboard food packaging: This is paper treated to prevent grease from soaking into it, such as wrapped around your hamburger or holding your fries. Fast food aside, PFAS are also used in paper plates and cups, even some eco-compostable types.

Help may be on the way. California recently passed a new law which bans PFAS in paper food packaging, and for the first time, requires cookware manufacturers to disclose hazardous chemicals used in their products. It took effect January 2023. But, that is only for new cookware. Here is what to do RIGHT NOW:

  • Get rid of your non-stick pots, pans, cookie sheets, griddles and all the rest (sorry, it’s all got to go!).
  • Do NOT buy second-hand cookware with non-stick coatings. Old non-stick cookware is even more dangerous than the new kinds.
  • Use cast iron, stainless steel or carbon steel for cooking. Hint: the dark color of cast iron and carbon steel means no need to spend time scouring stains. AND cast iron, carbon steel and stainless steel cookware are often easy to find at estate sales and flea markets!

On a happy end note, no PFAS is used in Yumbini packaging. Our packaging supplier was one of the first to eliminate PFSA from their entire supply chain. And as long as you cook in a stainless steel pot, or microwave in a glass or ceramic bowl, you won’t pick any up during preparation. If you need a glass bowl for microwave cooking (rather than paper or plastic), order one of our survival kits!

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