A new study reveals how many tiny plastic particles could be seeping into our food from contact with cookware. A small crack in a Teflon pan could release up to 9,100 particles.
Non-stick Teflon-coated pots and pans gradually lose their coating as we use and wash them, which could be a problem when preparing meals.
However, it is difficult to measure exactly how much plastic is released Science Alert.
How has the risk of microplastics and nanoplastics on the surface of cookware been assessed?
The new research looks at microplastics (smaller than 5 millimeters) and nanoplastics (millions of times smaller), concluding that over time we could be dealing with substantial numbers of plastic fragments.
“This research gives us a strong warning that we need to be careful when selecting and using cooking utensils to avoid food contamination,” says Youhong Tang, a mechanical and materials engineer at Flinders University in Australia.
In an attempt to assess the risk, the team used what is called a Raman imaging technique to study the microplastics and nanoplastics on a Teflon layer at the molecular level by scattering photons. They also applied custom algorithms to calculate how much of this coating might come off and end up in food.
A crack in a Teflon pan hides ‘eternal chemicals’
A broken coating could cause up to 2.3 million tiny particles to be released during cooking, according to the figures – this is based on 30 seconds of cooking if a turner has broken a Teflon surface.
According to the researchers, Teflon is part of a family of what are known as “eternal chemicals” that remain in the environment: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that have been associated with a number of health problems.
“Given that PFAS is a big concern, these Teflon microparticles in our food could be a health problem,” says Cheng Fang, a materials researcher at Newcastle University in Australia.
Older pans and saucepans might wear out after a certain time
While there are still questions about how frequent and dangerous this release of microplastics and nanoplastics might be, the researchers call for further research into the possible effects of contamination during cooking.
Older pans and pans may be retired after a certain amount of time, or the Teflon coatings may be made more resistant to the wear and tear they go through during washing and use.
Despite the impressive work, the research team acknowledges the difficulty of measuring and evaluating plastic particles at this type of microscopic size. This area could be improved in the future.