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My first Web article on Teflon explains how they actually get it to stick to the pan.

Be sure to check out the DuPont Home Page for information on Teflon, including the annual Plunkett award for inventions using Teflon.


Nutritional Nonsense by Catherine Houck (Good Housekeeping, v.215, n.5, p.128)

A case of polytetrafluoroethylene poisoning in cockatiels accompanied by polymer fume fever in the owner by T.B. Blanford, P.J. Seamon, and R. Hughes (United Kingdom Veterinary Record, 1975)

Exposure of Japanese quail and parakeets to the pyrolysis products of fry pans coated with Teflon and common cooking oils by F.D. Griffith, S.S. Stephens, and F.O. Tayfun (Abstract from Dialog Online Services).






Can it really kill your pet birds?

There's a hidden danger in your home. 

The danger is that non-stick stuff applied to your pans. (PTFE - polytetrafluoroethylene)  DuPont's Teflon is the most famous of the PTFE coatings, but they are not the only manfuactrer of the product.

Well, the PTFE itself is not dangerous, but its fumes are. 

It seems that pet birds can die from exposure to PTFE fumes. 

But, wait! Don't throw out those pans just yet. 

The pans must be empty and heated to temperatures beyond the normal cooking range (about 400 degrees C). At this temperature, PTFE particles become airborne and can cause a type of poisoning known as polymer fume fever

In humans, the symptoms of polymer fume fever are similar to that of influenza, but of shorter duration (usually several hours to a couple of days). 

If you get it, don't expect a doctor to recognize it too easily. It is very hard to diagnose, and is hardly ever attributed to PTFE (other polymers have been shown to do more damage). 

Very few instances of harm to humans is known. I could only find one confirmed death from it - a guy that worked in a manufacturing plant that heated PTFE to these temperatures day after day. 

Certainly not the typical level of exposure. 

Based on this information, PTFE may be starting to look dangerous, but my sources all point out that it is totally safe under normal cooking conditions. 

Birds, however, are not so lucky. They are extremely susceptible to this type of poisoning. 

There is one documented case of a lady killing her five cockatiels - they were exposed to burning PTFE for about one-half hour. 

But PTFE is not alone. 

One study showed that butter burned in an iron pan to a lower temperature (270C) also killed the birds! 

So did the fumes from the pot's handle. 

I take this to mean that if you fill a room with too much smoke of any type, you will kill the birds. 

Apparently, mammals have a higher tolerance when exposed to these fumes - they only get sick (death is rare). 

By the way, polymer fume fever is not just caused by the burning of PTFE. 

It seems that the same symptoms occur from exposure to ski wax, aerosol leather conditioners, cigarettes (somehow polymers are used in the manufacturing process and end up in the product), and the like. 

In fact, these materials have caused many more documented problems than the PTFE. 

So should we throw out those pots and pans? 

Probably not. But a little concern can never hurt. 

The consumer really has little to worry about. 

Of course, if you just somehow happen to burn the PTFE surface off your pan, then your pet birds could be in grave danger. 

What should you do in this situation? 

Open the windows and let some fresh air in. 

You will probably be just fine - if there are any symptoms, they will probably vanish shortly. (Of course, go see a doctor if you're concerned). 

The only people in jeopardy appear to be those that work in manufacturing plants that melt PTFE day in and day out. 

As a side note: If PTFE flakes off, it will pass through the body with no effect. 

Excluding glass, PTFE appears to be the safest cooking surface. 

Copper, aluminum, and stainless steel (nickel) are absorbed into food at a much higher rate when compared with PTFE. 

No one knows if there are any long term effects from these metals in the food, but one article advises to cook in glass cookware only. 

Also, foods should only be stored in glass bowls in the refrigerator - this reduces the contact time with the metals. Of course, this makes me wonder about the safety of storing food long term in plastic bags! 

I guess technology will kill us in the end no matter what preventions we take... 

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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Teflon is a registered trademark of DuPont.  DuPont has asked that all references to Teflon be removed from this web site.  Of course,  that would be in violation of our guaranteed freedom of speech.  You have the right to know that there is a potential problem with their product if you have birds in your home.