Lovely to look at and beautiful to hold...
But they may be as toxic as they are bold.
As a woman who was poisoned by dinnerware for over 15 years and spent decades undoing the damage, the choice in dinner plates matters. The biggest fear is lead, because the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, is permissive about it's use in dinnerware and actually has allowable levels that are said to be "safe". The truth about lead and other lethal toxins that are casually allowed in consumer products is that their continued use adds up. No matter who considers these toxins safe, your body might disagree.
To your body, ingesting toxins means the chore of detoxing that toxin is being assigned. If the dangers cannot be discharged fast enough, they will likely be stored in organs and tissue. Stored toxicity is a time bomb. You never know if or when it will become a burden that will manifest into a chronic condition or illness. When it does, it will most likely be misdiagnosed and treated with drugs to ease symptoms while the true culprit remains in the body to do further damage.
Because the choices for lead-free dinnerware are few, Melamine looked like an exciting option. It's lightweight, durable, inexpensive and comes in beautiful color and pattern options, but could there be a downside?
Melamine has been used as an industrial fertilizer and the finished product for dinnerware does include formaldehyde. Many will rely on the fact that it meets FDA requirements and that the potential of the toxicity leaching into foods is not likely, but the risk you take could be grand.
Melamine does have the potential to leach toxicity as stated by the FDA. Long term exposure from storing food on plates, heat and acidic foods allow the release more easily. Cutting food with knives could also be a contributor. Additionally, some Melamine products are not even dishwasher safe while others are limited to the top rack of dishwashers adding to the worry that dishwashing might also help spread the contaminants.
In 2007 150 brands of pet food were recalled because of Melamine contamination. In simple, routine taste tests pets died from exposure. The danger to humans is mostly related to the kidneys, with kidney failure, kidney infection, kidney stones, high blood pressure and death being the primary concerns.
To risk or not to risk is a personal decision, but being armed with the facts is essential. Below are FDA responses to questions on their site, FDA.gov.
Some interesting notes to consider give clue to the casual attitude of the Administration. The warnings are softened by saying the risk is minimal. They state that in one test 3 of 19 samples were considered a danger. Nineteen samples is hardly adequate to safeguard consumers and where are those 3 brands that are hazardous if not on the same shelf as the other 16? They say also that tests were done in exaggerated conditions of food being held at 160 degrees for 2 hours. Personally, I do not consider these conditions extreme or exaggerated. Warming plates, dishwashing, microwaving and many kitchen uses allow for these temperatures to be used commonly.
The FDA admits that acidic foods are at a higher risk and claim that because these foods are only about 10% of the normal diet, all should be fine. This seems an incredible response to the question, "Could Melamine be harmful to my health?' Using the logic provided, those with a healthier diet will be at a higher risk than those who do not incorporate such foods.
Melamine in Tableware: Questions and Answers by FDA.gov:
What is melamine?
Melamine is a chemical that has many industrial uses. In the United States, it is approved for use in the manufacturing of some cooking utensils, plates, plastic products, paper, paperboard, and industrial coatings, among other things. In addition, although it is not registered as a fertilizer in the U.S., melamine has been used as a fertilizer in some parts of the world. Melamine may be used in the manufacturing of packaging for food products, but is not FDA-approved for direct addition to human food or animal feeds marketed in the U.S.
I recently read that plastic tableware from China contained high levels of melamine. Can the melamine from these products get into foods and drinks?
The Taiwan Consumers' Foundation recently tested plastic tableware made in China and found that it contained melamine at a level of 20,000 parts per billion. This type of tableware is manufactured with a substance called melamine-formaldehyde resin. It forms molecular structures that are molded, with heat, to form the shape of the tableware. A small amount of the melamine used to make the tableware is "left over" from this chemical reaction and remains in the plastic. This left-over melamine can migrate very slowly out of the plastic into food that comes into contact with the tableware.
If melamine from plastic tableware can get into foods and drinks, does it make the foods or drinks harmful to health?
It has been found that melamine does not migrate from melamine-formaldehyde tableware into most foods. The only measured migration, in tests, was from some samples (three out of 19 commercially available plates and cups) into acidic foods, under exaggerated conditions (that is, the food was held in the tableware at 160 oF for two hours). When adjusted for actual-use conditions (cold orange juice held in the tableware for about 15 minutes), the migration would be less than 10 parts of melamine per billion parts of juice.
This is 250 times lower than the level of melamine (alone or even in combination with related compounds – analogues – known to increase its toxicity) that FDA has concluded is acceptable in foods other than infant formula (2,500 parts per billion); in other words, well below the risk level. In addition, such highly acidic foods make up only about 10% of the total diet, so the dietary level of melamine in these scenarios would be less than one part per billion.
However, when highly acidic foods are heated to extreme temperatures (e.g.,160 ° F or higher), the amount of melamine that migrates out of the plastic can increase. Foods and drinks should not be heated on melamine-based dinnerware in microwave ovens. Only ceramic or other cookware which specifies that the cookware is microwave-safe should be used. The food may then be served on melamine-based tableware.
Should I stop using plastic tableware?
Foods and drinks may be served on plastic tableware. Plastic tableware that does not specify that it’s microwave-safe should not be used to heat foods and drinks.
How did FDA decide what level of melamine in food doesn’t pose a risk to health?
A safety and risk assessment estimates the risk that specific substances have on human health, based on the best scientific data available at the time. FDA has done this type of assessment to identify the risk posed by melamine and its analogues in foods (Interim Safety and Risk Assessment of Melamine and Its Analogues in Food for Humans).
The risk assessment was conducted by scientists from FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, and included a review of the scientific literature on melamine toxicity. Animal studies also provided valuable information for this work. The assessment underwent peer review by a group of experts identified by an independent contractor.
What problems can melamine cause if people eat or drink food contaminated with it?
Products with melamine contamination above the levels noted in FDA’s risk assessment may put people at risk of conditions such as kidney stones and kidney failure, and of death. Signs of melamine poisoning may include irritability, blood in urine, little or no urine, signs of kidney infection, and / or high blood pressure.