What is in Pam Cooking Spray? Bad Things …

olive oil mister

Soon to be the latest addition to my kitchen … no more cooking sprays for THIS family.

In the “How did we not know this before?” department …

Hairdresser Christine Sturges of California decided to sue the manufacturers of Pam Cooking Spray after she found out that what was in the can she used for cooking might be closer than she thought to the hairspray she used on her clients. (And you can insert the word allegedly anywhere you want in that sentence since this is an ongoing legal case.)

Her attorney, Don Barrett, a successful litigator against Big Tobacco, is fighting to have Pam, manufactured by ConAgra, removed from store shelves. Raising an eyebrow as to why?  According to The New York Times it’s due to the ingredients that are filed separately with the government on a data safety sheet … the last one listed is “propellant.”

What exactly is propellant? According to the Times it includes “petroleum gas, propane, and butane.”  How about a little side of that with your pancakes? Eeep!

I read the article and immediately went to look at my can of spray oil (not Pam), and yes, the last ingredient was propellant … although it said propellant with no chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs are used mainly as refrigerants and solvents). Good to know I don’t have any solvents in my canola spray! Geez … Needless to say I propelled that can straight into the trash.

Wikipedia talks about the propellant in cooking spray as any combination of food-grade alcohol, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, or propane. Nothing on that list is what I would call “true food.”  I admit I’ve used spray oil on occasion mostly so I can use as little as possible and keep the calories down while keeping the food from sticking. But those days are over; there’s nothing on that list I want in my or my family’s system.

This is just another reminder to eat food as close to its original form as possible. Stick to real fruits and veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and if you’re going to eat something processed, make it yourself in your kitchen … Don’t rely on food manufacturers for any help.

There are olive oil sprayers (Amazon link) you can buy now where you just pour in your own oil and use it as a spray device. I bought one a couple of years ago, but now I’m gonna get a new one and start using it regularly.

What do you think?  Do you use cooking spray?  Are you going to keep using it now that you know what’s in it?




  1. says

    i don’t use spray.
    i use either butter or olive oil, but i rarely cook in a skillet anyway.
    i DO, however, spray PAM on a papertowel, then wipe squeaky door hinges…

  2. says

    Good luck with your new toy. I owned a one of these about 10-15 years ago. It took about a year for the nozzle to develop black moldy spots. Its not really all that cleanable (certainly the spray nozzle was not). Perhaps they have updated the designs? I don’t remember which brand I had used, but there were several with similar designs.

    Try a pastry brush (I find them in nice dishwashable, heatproof silicone) and a small custard cup for oil or melted butter. Drizzle on the pan and swirl around to evenly coat your pan. Yes, you might use a tad more oil than what comes out of a spray. But is saving a teaspoon (or even a tablespoon) really that much of a savings (especially in a family-sized recipe)?

    And for pancakes, I’ve found that oil doesn’t do as good of a job of allowing the pancakes to easily release as simply using a properly heated pan–not too cold, not too hot. Even plain old stainless steel (with no non-stick coating) that is hot enough to sizzle drops of water ( but not hot enough to burn the batter) works fine with little or no spray. It does take practice, though, to recognize which stove setting works best (more pancakes!)

  3. Elizabeth says

    I haven’t used commercial nonstick spray in about six months. I have a refillable olive oil sprayer that I now use. I make sure I wash it well each time I have to refill it, and so far, no problems.

  4. says

    Cooking spray is POISON, PLUS it is NOT zero calorie!
    ONE THIRD of a pump – and WHO exactly can measure that? – is less than 1/2 calorie so brilliant food labeling police let them ROUND DOWN to guess what, ZERO!
    So weight watchers spray and spray thinking NO calories!
    WRONG! So getting LOTS of chemicals PLUS calories!

    No self-respecting French girl, would, of course, use such awful stuff, but I am continually amazed how people slather it on their food, also POST cooking!
    I can TASTE the chemicals…

    Ok…rant done…
    Thanks for this great post which will hopefully wake up dieters!
    PS I use butter! ok sometimes olive oil!

  5. says

    I stopped using sprays and bought an olive oil sprayer a couple of months ago. I love it! Not only does it work well to oil your pan, it’s perfect for veggies on the grill. Just spray them down and pop them on the grill.

  6. Liz says

    Anything processed in a can that promises a non-stick surface is a non-food product. The fact that these sprays contain propellant and was not listed on the ingredients is no surprise to me. I have never used Pam or any other non-stick sprays.

    After decades (let’s just say many) of reading about the insidious chemicals in just about everything processed, I’m wise to them . . . with the exception of last year’s big headlines: I was truly flabbergasted that natural-looking beef could have been tampered with in such an insanely greedy way and dubbed “pink slime.”

    I overheard a conversation in a parking lot one day: An employee from Budweiser was talking to a friend. Turns it, he’s a chemist who works for Budweiser. Chemists work in every one of our large food manufacturing corporations. How many more chemists are there for every nutritionist at Dole, Pillsbury, Hershey’s, etc.? Do they even hire nutritionists? . . .

  7. admin says

    Sarah, we use olive oil & a bit of butter mostly at our house too. Just eat real food … :-) L–

  8. Kathy Smith says

    You can get a really great sprayer from Pampered Chef. (No, I don’t sell it!) You assemble the sprayer, put in whatever oil you choose, pump it up with the top part of the sprayer, and air acts as the propellant. I’m sure you can find a Pampered Chef dealer online. The last one I bought was about $14.

  9. Ryan says

    There’s definitely a flammable propellant in PAM. Probably butane, which is what it smelled like when I did a water-based extraction of the gas. It produced a 4 inch high flame through a half inch opening.

  10. Christin says

    I am quitting cooking spray! That stuff SMELLS like chemicals even! After looking at the ingredients and seeing “propellant”, I’m totally convinced!

  11. admin says

    Christin welcome to the other side … I find I use a bit more butter but otherwise stay almost as healthy …

  12. admin says

    Well Nancy, I have to honestly say that is mostly what I do … but everyone once in a while I just want a little spritz of it and then I use my mister … works well. :)

  13. says

    Every time I eat something that has touched ANY nonstick spray I get unbearable cramping followed by diarrhea for hours. It is a very dangerous product.. I can’t eat anything that I see not in a liner or that I know who made it and can ask it they sprayed it or used butter. This stuff needs to be taken off the market before it kills someone.

  14. admin says

    Wow Connie, sorry that happens to you. That is an extreme reaction but the stuff inside it is pretty darned gross too. Shudder.

  15. Diane says

    I have never in my life used Pam cooking spray – I was brought up by a naturalist mom and was told all that stuff was poison. I used it for the first time a month ago in my boyfriend’s kitchen as he didn’t have any regular oil. He defended it by challenging me to read the ingredients- since I didn’t know what propellant was, I shrugged and used it. Now I am angry that labeling laws in the U.S. allow this to happen. It’s extremely DISHONEST and goes to show that once again, it’s the bottom line vs. your health.

  16. Jay says

    I purchased multiple pump up pressurized oil spray cans from Williams-Sanoma, but they all failed with leaks within just a couple months. Very frustrating. Expensive. Great idea. Bad design. I’d love to hear about anyone that has had luck with any of these that work. (Pressurizing allows much smaller droplets than a regular spray pump)

  17. Nicole says

    Never used it knowingly. Never bought it. Never will.

    The problem becomes: what to do when eating out and trying to be social at places that are honestly trying to serve real food, but for reasons of scale, are still using “healthy” non-stick products. [This is clearly an oxymoronic definition, please excuse its use here.]

    The most socially acceptable solution I can think of is to simply avoid (as unobtrusively as possible) any dish that could possibly have been prepared with such a product.

    Have compassion upon your fellow americains until we solve this globally: In many parts of the country, it will be, and will remain well-nigh impossible to consume anything while out with one’s friends. If someone announces, “no thanks, I’m full,” or some such variant, don’t press; support their choice to be polite while NOT self-poisoning.

    In the meantime, cue up those sayings that your great-great grandmother would have wielded to pound in the sense we should all have — they can make for great moments around the table!

  18. Nancy Again says

    If it isn’t really food,I say, why eat it? A tiny bit of olive oil, or butter, melted in the skillet, and spread around the surface works just as well and no one will need to breathe in, or, eat, “propellant.” This low-fat, fat-free craze has been used by food processors to sell us all sorts of things we would not knowingly eat, and have successfully disarmed those federal agencies that were instituted to protect us from such devious, dishonest, and dangerous deceptions. We, in short,have been had. Spray propellants are only a small part of this, of course. The situation is systemic — I wish I had a solution. In the meantime, we can vote with our feet and dollars, and refuse to be fooled.

  19. Mae says

    According to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food, most of the propellant vaporizes into the air when sprayed. The rest does not survive heat. They found no toxicological concerns.
    To each his own, of course…but I believe everything has a toxic limit…even “natural” things. I would not, however, spray it on already cooked, or cold food.

  20. Mary says

    I have been trying to lose weight, so I bought Pam Buttery flavored popcorn oil and spray it all over my popcorn, than add Mr. Kernels white chedder seasoning. I eat like 3 huge bowls a night. I am literally addicted to it. I have gained 20 pounds since. Now, I’m wondering what I have done to my body. I knew it was canola oil flavored with butter, but I assumed canola oil is better than real butter. I spray a lot too, twice, sometimes 3 times after mixing the popcorn. Hot air popcorn is so bland, and I have a ton of it left. I don’t care for the taste of olive oil. Any suggestions? I would greatly appreciate it. I’m now wondering about Mr. Kernels white chedder spray. I wonder what is in that that is killing me? Geez!!!

  21. MeeToo says

    Connie, if you are still out there, the same thing happens to me. I have been trying for years to figure out what I am allergic to, since the reactions seemed so random, but now have realized it is cooking spray. I found this page when I googled trying to find out what was actually in the spray that I could be so allergic to… still don’t know but good to know I am not crazy. Sorry to hear that someone else goes through the same pain though…

  22. Sherri says

    I have used Pam before, but never will again. I have been using olive oil spray. Does it have the same bad propellants or other harmful ingredients in it too?

  23. Allen N Wollscheidt says

    I challenge anyone to show that any of the ingredients listed as part or whole of the “propellant” survive IN the food after the first few seconds of elevated cooking temperature : They are extremely volatile and so are gone.
    It is granted that you will breathe some of them, but not eat them.
    Also, look up the natures of each of these, then decide.
    It would be better to focus your attention on ACTUAL culprits.

  24. Richard Lake says

    The oil in Pam and clones is modified to have 0 nutritional content by making it nondigestible in the human body. Think of motor oil which also has 0 nutritional value. Olive oil flavored motor oil, yum!

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