Teflon pan has been a concern of people who use it to cook food.
People are worrying that the non-stick coating will be toxic to them.
When a Teflon pan is heated above a certain temperature (overheat) it will start to break down and form toxic gas.
Here I am going to talk about how Teflon pan gets overheated, is it safe to use an overheated Teflon pan, how to avoid overheating, and how to use Teflon pan safely.
What to do if you overheat a Teflon pan.
If you overheat a Teflon pan when cooking, please make sure the kitchen is in a ventilated condition, to ensure the toxic gas released from non-stick coating dissipates outdoors, for example open up the window or turn on the exhaust fan. To prevent overheating a Tefon pan, control the stove at low or medium heating level and do not preheat an empty pan. It is safe to use damaged Teflon pan but the toxic gas due Teflon pan overheating is a health hazard for the human body, it will cause symptoms like fever and headache.
What happens when a Teflon pan overheats?
Teflon is a brand name for synthetic material known as Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE.
PTFE is a fluorocarbon solid, a polymer made of carbon and fluorine atoms.
Teflon is used to coat a layer on the pan to make it non-stick, chemically inert, and high melting point.
So when you are frying an egg on a Teflon pan, the egg will not stick on the pan and is able to slide easily, and you may easily flip the frying egg.
Teflon has a high melting point of 327 degree celsius (621°F), but above 260 degree celsius (500°F), the Teflon polymer will start to break down and release toxic chemical gas into the air and cause flu-like symptoms when inhaled.
This is actually a concern when using a Teflon pan even though the non-stick feature is good for cooking.
How does the Teflon pan get overheated?
There are some actions that can lead to a Teflon pan overheating.
Preheating the empty (without food) Teflon pan with high heat for one to two minutes can achieve about 500°F.
Empty Teflon pan reaches 500°F easily and fast when put on a stove with high heat (400 to 600°F).
(High heat temperature means between 400°F and 600°F or about 205°C and 315°C. Low heat range between 113 to 180 °F. Medium heat range between 300° F to 400°F )
Preheating a Teflon pan with two tablespoon oil with high heat for two to three minutes can achieve about 510°F.
Cooking meat (examples: steak or hamburger) on Teflon with high heat for 8 to 10 minutes can achieve about 600°F.
The weight of the Teflon does matter in affecting how fast the pan gets overheated.
The lighter the Teflon pan, the faster it gets overheated.
Is it safe to use an overheated Teflon pan?
It is safe to use a damaged or overheated Teflon pan.
In case a person accidentally ingest flakes of Teflon coating, the flakes are non toxic and will just pass through the human body without being absorbed.
Teflon or PTFE is chemically inert and its atoms would not interact with body cells.
But when the Teflon pan is heated above 500°F, the non-stick coating will start to break down and release toxic fumes into the air.
The Teflon toxic fumes can cause flu-like symptoms known as polymer fume fever such as chills, fever, headache, and body aches.
The health effect from the toxic fumes of overheated Teflon pan may be serious.
How to avoid the Teflon pan getting overheated and use it safely?
Do not preheat an empty Teflon pan with high heat. Some people have experience of heating the pan first, let the pan temperature rise, then pour in the oil, and then put in the food to cook. This practice can make sure the water on the pan surface totally evaporates before putting in the oil and avoids oil splash while cooking. So don’t preheat an empty Teflon pan as its temperature will rise fast and get overheated. Use a clean and dry cloth to wipe off the water on the Teflon pan before starting to cook. Always make sure there are some foods and liquid on the Teflon pan before preheating the pan.
Try to avoid using high heat to cook on a Teflon pan. Only use low or medium heat to cook with a Teflon pan. Do not sear or broil meat on a Teflon pan as these cooking methods need high heat and temperature could go more than 500°F which causes the Teflon pan to overheat. Switching to cast iron or stainless steel pan to sear or broil meat is better.
When cooking on a Teflon pan, always make sure the kitchen is well ventilated. When you are cooking with a Teflon pan, you don’t know the temperature level at where. The pan temperature may rise up to above 500°F and toxic fumes will be released from the non-stick coating. So this is the importance of good ventilation in the kitchen, by opening up the window or installing an exhaust fan to avoid the toxic gas level increase in the kitchen.
Do not leave a Teflon pan on the stove after cooking. Even Though the stove stops heating, there is still some heat to be generated from it. After serving the food, don’t put the empty Teflon pan again on the hot stove, put it on a wooden coaster instead.
Get a heavier Teflon pan. Light weight pan easily gets heated to a higher temperature compared to a heavy pan.
Consider a pan of other material instead of Teflon. Maybe you can buy a pan made of stainless steel or cast iron for broiling meat purposes, while Teflon for light cooking like frying eggs.
Never use metal utensils on the Teflon pan. Hard objects will damage the non-stick coating easily and cause flaking and chipping of the pan, and the Teflon pan is more likely to release toxic compounds.
Wash the Teflon with a soft object. As an example avoid using steel wool to wash the Teflon pan surface as it will easily scratch the non-stick coating. Just use your hand with a sponge to gently wash the pan.
After a Teflon pan has been used for some time, the non-stick coating layer will be damaged at a certain level, depending on how you maintain the pan. You will notice some discoloration on the Teflon pan surface which is a sign of overheat. To prolong the lifespan of a Teflon pan, I am suggesting using it only for light cooking like frying eggs. For broiling meat, suggest using a stainless steel or cast iron pan to do it. When a Teflon pan overheats it will release toxic gas, so always make sure the kitchen is well-ventilated when using the Teflon pan, for safety.