I’ve had several people ask me if air fryers are safe. There are really two parts to this question. First, we need to understand if the food made in an air fryer is healthy. Next, we need to see if the appliance itself has unhealthy materials that can leach into food. I’m not a nutritionist so the first part of the question is outside my area of expertise, but I have been learning about and eating a healthy diet for most of my life so I’ll offer my opinion.
Food made in an air fryer is healthier than deep fried food but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. The main benefits over deep frying are fewer calories, less fat and lower levels of acrylamide. Air fryers use very hot, circulated air to cook the food. As a result, you can use a fraction of the amount oil used for deep frying. Some fryers claim to reduce fat up to 75%. Acrylamide is a compound that is formed when certain high-carbohydrate foods such as potatoes are cooked for long periods at high heat. Acrylamide is a probable carcinogen and has been linked to certain cancers including endometrial, ovarian, breast, pancreatic, and esophageal cancer (source). One study found that air fryers reduce acrylamides up to 90% (source).
Cooking meat at high temperatures for long periods form harmful substances including heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer (source). HCAs are formed when meat is cooked above 300° for long periods and PAHs are formed when meat is exposed to smoke and flames. Meat cooked in an air fryer can still form these compounds.
To reduce the risk of forming HCAs and PAHs, avoid burning the food and remove any charred portions. It’s also really important to use some form of ventilation. At least when you fry on the stove top you can (and should!) use your range hood to ventilate and when you barbeque you are outdoors. You need to find a similar method of ventilation when air frying. Open a window or find a safe way to use the air fryer under your range hood to reduce the smoke and fumes.
Do air fryers contain toxic materials that could leach into food?
This part of the question is my area of expertise!
Many air fryers have non-stick coatings and are made of plastic. I don’t recommend them.
Many air fryers use either a PTFE-based coating or ceramic coating. You can read more about why I don’t recommend either of these in The Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Cookware. Some people believe that ceramic coatings are safe but there is emerging evidence of risks associated with their use. At best, more research is needed to prove their safety.
Many air fryers have a plastic casing. Even if the plastic does not touch the food it will heat up during cooking which can increase off-gassing. Read more about the toxicity of plastic here. Also, some may use insulation to keep the plastics from getting too hot. It’s not known what materials are used for this insulation.
I don’t recommend any of these models because they are made of plastic and/or use non-stick coatings.
Ninja Air Fryer
The basket and crisper plate are made of aluminum with a ceramic non-stick coating. The casing is made of plastic. It does have a California Proposition 65 warning label but the company was unable to tell me which material requires it.
Cosori Air Fryer
The basket has a PTFE-based (Teflon) coating. The casing is plastic, made from polypropylene and polyphenylene sulfide (PPS).
The basket has a PTFE-based coating. The casing is plastic. It does have a California Proposition 65 warning label on it but the company was unable to tell me what material requires it.
These options are better because they are made primarily of glass or metal but each has some areas of concern.
The frying rack is uncoated and made of a chrome-plated aluminum. The baking pan is non-stick so if you purchase this item, I would avoid using the baking pan. The interior of the oven does not have a coating. The unit has a California Proposition 65 warning label for the 2 relatively small plastic parts (handle and legs), neither of which come in contact with the food.
The main compartment is made of tempered glass. The basket and racks have a non-stick coating. If you wanted to purchase this item, I would not use the basket and rack and look for an uncoated stainless steel rack with similar dimensions. It does have a California Proposition 65 warning label but the company was not able to tell me the material that requires it.
This is the Best Option I Found
The main compartment is made of tempered glass with uncoated stainless steel racks. It does not have a California Proposition 65 warning label.
Please know that I have not used this model or any of those referenced so I can’t speak to performance. This one seems to get good ratings online but you should check them out for yourself.
Personally, I plan to skip this trend and opt for healthier cooking methods like steaming and baking. If you do choose to opt in, select a model with safer materials and only use it on occasion.