Cooking in a non-stick pan means skipping the hard scrubbing of charred food every day, But widely used Teflon pans have a health stigma associated with it. It’s known to cause various cancers, infertility, liver or kidney diseases and many other diseases.
Although the world of non-stick pans has changed with a safety whistle buzzing around it, concerns seem to pop up from time to time. One of the often-asked questions is:
In This Article
What Happens if You Accidentally Eat Teflon Flakes?
The simple answer is Teflon flakes which get mixed in food while cooking won’t harm you if you ingest it by mistake.
The reason behind this is because the brand Teflon with a chemical name (PTFE) is one of the most inert (non-reactive) at room temperature. Even if it finds its way into your body, it won’t be broken down or absorbed by the body and will ultimately pass out of the digestive tract.
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Teflon Inserted in the Body by Doctors
The most surprising thing is Teflon or PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) polymer which is considered a threat to human health and is most commonly used in medical devices.
One such device is annuloplasty rings used in heart valve repair to tighten it permanently left in the body as a foreign object. Other medical applications of Teflon include batteries for pacemakers, prosthetics for orbital floor reconstruction, implants for incontinence, prosthetics joints and many other devices.
It wouldn’t be used in any medical device if it could cause any harm to the body. The reason for Teflon (medical grade coating) usage in medical equipment is due to its heat resistance, low-friction, non-wetting, and non-reactive effects.
So does that mean it’s completely safe to use a scratched Teflon pan?
Just because Teflon flakes aren’t harmful to your health doesn’t mean that you can keep using a highly scratched Teflon pan.
First thing first, if you are seeing Teflon flakes in your food, that means the pan is showing signs of wear and tear and is losing its non-stick ability. So why would you keep using a non-stick pan if the food sticks on it? Instead, you can use any regular pan.
But a slightly scratched pan can be used for a little longer until the non-stick coating starts withering away.
What Happens If You Inhale Teflon?
Now that we know that Teflon is safe to eat, I mean, you can’t eat a spoonful of Teflon; that would neither be recommended nor would it taste good. But accidentally ingesting a few flakes isn’t harmful. Our bodies are made stronger than that. But what about Teflon inhaling?
It is widely known that if you overheat a Teflon pan, the fumes rising from the Teflon coating can cause a flu-like symptom called “Teflon Flu.”
Teflon flu symptoms include chills, headache, mild fever, but these fumes are lethal for birds.
And what’s the exact temperature that we shouldn’t cross?
The temperature is 500° F. If you cook the food under this temperature, you are safe. It won’t start producing the lethal fumes. But if you go above that, The Teflon polymers will start to depolymerize and release fluorocarbons which can be toxic.
However, researchers argue that since people don’t cook at enough high heat, Teflon is safe as it doesn’t produce lethal smoke at low temperatures.
But what if the pan is left on high flame…
How much time will it take to reach a high temperature?
According to Live Science, “A Teflon-coated pan can reach 750 F (399 C) if left for eight minutes at high heat on a stovetop.”
So, that’s a short amount of time, and people using Teflon pan should be aware of it.
Why Does Teflon Start Flaking?
Now, we have talked about eating and inhaling Teflon; let’s talk about how and why your pan starts flaking in the first place.
I will not bore you with the usual talk about how using steel spatulas or scrubbing hard while washing can cause the pan to scratch and flake. Even high-heat cooking can cause the pan’s non-stick coating to disintegrate.
But do you know that even cooking at medium heat will also deteriorate the non-stick coating?
According to research published in Science Direct, Teflon coating starts breaking down over time even if it is heated at a lower temperature.
That’s the reason that every Teflon pan starts flaking over time, and it’s a common issue to find Teflon flakes in the food.
The lifespan of Teflon Pan
Has your pan started flaking sooner?
For those who follow the non-stick maintenance protocols strictly, how long does it take for them to start seeing their pan scratch or flake and find their tiny bits in food?
A study conducted in 2001 states that if you consistently use your pan at 500° F for searing or cooking, your pan will last 2.3 years.
But the reality is often different from research, and the non-stick may start degrading sooner than two years. It all depends on the quality of the pan and the layers of Teflon. Double and triple-coated Teflon pans last longer. Repairing Teflon pans isn’t possible; the best option is to replace them and dispose of older Teflon pans.
There’s no need to throw your food or worry about your health if Teflon flakes find their way in the food. It will simply pass out of the body without harming your internals. However, inhaling Teflon fumes can cause flu-like symptoms and fever. The best way to avoid it is by never heating an empty pan or cooking on high heat.