Air Fryer without oil: what are the health risks?

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THE hot air fryers or oil-free fryers, commonly called AirFryer, are enjoying growing success with consumers concerned about protecting their health. The promise of these devices? Quickly provide crispy food and low in fat. But in recent months, numerous videos have emerged on Tik Tok et Instagram, denouncing their carcinogenic potential. These new kind of fryers Are they really dangerous for our health? ? Response from Xavier Coumoul, professor of toxicology and biochemistry at Paris Cité University and member of the Nutrition Physical Activity Cancer Research network (NACRe Network).

AirFryer: how do these oil-free fryers work?

Unlike traditional fryers, air fryers do not immerse food in boiling oil to cook it. It is actually small convection ovens which fit on a work surface and simulate a cooking in oil – less oil and the smell of frying!

Concretely, the food is placed in a perforated basket inside the device, then hot air circulates at high speed around them (up to 70 km/h), leading to rapid and even cooking. Note: fries, vegetables, meat, fish… AirFryers allow you to cook a wide variety of foods.

Advantages: how can their use be beneficial?

One of the biggest selling points of air fryers is their ability to produce crispy foods with minimal, if any, amount of oil added. Some devices, for example, promise to reduce the fat content of foods by up to 75%, or even 90%. An attractive parameter for those who wish to limit their consumption of lipids, in particular saturated fats, often associated with health problems such as cardiovascular diseases.

Oil-free fryers also have the advantage of cooking food more quickly, compared to traditional cooking methods (oven or pan). They can therefore save a few minutes of preparation and cooking, which is particularly useful when you have a busy schedule or that we have no particular appetite for cooking.

And as noted above, they are particularly versatile and can be used to prepare a wide variety of foods : fries, but also vegetables, meat, fish, snacks or desserts. Without forgetting that they are generally easy to use and clean.

Can AirFryers be dangerous?

AirFryers are generally considered safe when used correctly. As with any kitchen appliance, they nevertheless present certain risks:

  • There is obviously a risk of burns if you touch the hot surfaces of the AirFryer while it is operating, or within minutes after cooking has finished.
  • An oil-free fryer can overheat if it is used improperly, for long periods of time, or the ventilation vents are blocked. This may damage the device, but also cause a fire.
  • If the AirFryer is used incorrectly, or placed too close to flammable materials, it may also be responsible for a fire. Hence the importance of always following the manufacturer's instructions and never leaving the device unattended when it is in use!
  • As you will have understood, AirFryers still require a small quantity of oil. It is therefore important to handle this oil with care and do not overload the device to avoid splashing.
  • Finally, if you cook different types of foods in your AirFryer without cleaning it properly between each use, there are a risk of cross contamination between certain foods…

What about the carcinogenic risks of these devices?

More and more videos are circulating on social networks to denounce the presence of potentially carcinogenic pollutants on the walls of oil-free fryers… The PFAS (perfluoroalkylated and polyfluoroalkylated substances), including le PFOS (sulfonate de perfluorooctane) et the PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are particularly singled out, just like bisphenol A (BPA). Do these names sound familiar to you? No wonder, because their presence on the coatings of our non-stick pans has recently made headlines: they could migrate onto food and thus put our health at risk.

PFOS, PFAO, BPA: what are the risks?

The PFAS, also known as perennial pollutants, have largely contributed to the success of certain kitchen appliances and utensils thanks to their non-stick, waterproofing and resistance to high heat properties. But their golden age is well and truly over: PFOS and PFOA (the two best-known PFAS) are today subject to strict regulations. The production and use of PFOS are restricted internationally since 2009 and PFOA is banned from import, export and production since 2020 (source 1). On December 1, 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finally classified PFOA as “ carcinogenic to humans » and PFOS as “ possibly carcinogenic to humans ».

Bisphenol A is a synthetic substance commonly used for the industrial manufacture of plastics. Much criticized, it has been recognized as an endocrine disruptor since 2017 and could in particular lead to fertility problems. As specified by the European Food Safety Authority, its use in materials in contact with food is still authorized within the European Union, provided that it respects a certain tolerable daily intake (source 2). To date, its carcinogenic nature has not been demonstrated in humansbut institutions recommend limiting the exposure of infants, young children and pregnant women.

Can our AirFryers contain PFOS, PFAO or BPA residue?

In theory, the non-stick coatings of recently released AirFryers cannot contain PFOS or PFAO residues. As for BPA, its presence is tolerated within a certain limit. We can nevertheless wonder… In practice, are the baskets of our AirFryers likely to contain PFOS and PFAO residues? “ It’s possible… Or not. No study has yet looked at these oil-free fryers and we can only base ourselves on extrapolations. », replies Professor Xavier Coumoul. A reassuring point nevertheless: in January 2024, UFC Que Choisir looked into the case of eight pans made of Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and was able to confirm that all complied with the regulations in force (source 3)! We can therefore reasonably think that the same is true for AirFryers…

Can our AirFryers contain other toxic PFAS?

You will have understood, the use of PFOS and PFAO is today prohibited, but PFAS are a large family: today we distinguish more than 4,000 chemical compounds with very diverse properties, which can potentially be used in the non-stick coatings of the baskets of our oil-free fryers. During its analyses, UFC Que Choisir, for example, identified 17, some of which were suspected of being dangerous, such as PFBS (perfluorobutanesulfonic acid) and PFHxA (perfluorohexanoic acid).

Professor Xavier Coumoul, however, wants to be reassuring: “ There is no evidence to suggest that cooking with the AirFryer would be more risky than cooking in the oven or pan.. For any toxic particles to detach from the device, temperatures of around 300°C would have to be reached. Gold most AirFryers do not exceed 220°C “. And to emphasize: “If we take the example of non-stick pans, no scientific study has yet demonstrated that chemical particles could detach from non-stick coatings in good condition, contaminate the food we ingest and put us in danger by same occasion.

In summary, there is no need to panic. The use of oil-free fryers does not appear to present any significant risk, provided that you use your appliance correctly and that the lining of its basket is of good quality and in good condition.

Please note: many models display the words “PFSA-free” and/or “BPA-free”. And for more peace of mind, you can opt for hot air fryers with a stainless steel (inox) or ceramic interior !

Towards a total ban on PFAS in hot air fryers?

On April 4, a bill aimed at limiting the use of PFAS was indeed adopted by French deputies at first reading. It plans to prohibit the manufacture, import, export and placing on the market cosmetics, waxes and clothing containing PFAS from January 1, 2026 (except protective clothing). All textiles will also be affected from 2030. Kitchen utensils and appliances (pots, pans, fryers with or without oil, etc.) have, however, been excluded from this bill by amendment in order to “give the necessary time “to French industries “to enable them to find satisfactory alternatives” (source 4). We will therefore have to wait.

What precautions should be taken to limit the risks?

To use a hot air fryer safely and limit potential risks, follow these few precautions:

  • Opt for a good quality AirFryercertified PFAS and BPA free.
  • Place the air fryer on a stable, heat-resistant surface to avoid any fall.
  • Always place food to be fried in the basket to prevent it from coming into contact with the heating elements.
  • Do not overload the basket too much, otherwise the air will not circulate well and the cooking will be missed.
  • Do not leave the air fryer operating unattended and stay close while cooking.
  • Avoid using metal utensils or abrasive sponges which could damage the non-stick coating of the baskets. Prefer wooden or silicone accessories
  • Make sure the air fryer is placed in a well-ventilated area : the vents must not be obstructed.
  • The pan, basket and accessories inside the AirFryer become hot during use. Be careful when handling them and use oven mitts or potholders if necessary. Also be careful not to put your head too close to the machine when removing the basket.
  • Do not plug too many appliances into the same electrical outlet as your air fryer to avoid potential electrical overloads.
  • Clean your air fryer regularly according to the manufacturer's instructions to avoid the accumulation of food residue which could cause a fire.
  • Besides, you'd better use this type of fryer with moderation and vary the cooking methods as well as the types of food!
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