Why You Might Want to Steer Clear of Melamine Dishes
And what outdoor dishes you should get instead for your backyard bbqs, dinner parties, and picnics
Remember those bleak winter days that had you dreaming of summer? Well, no need to dream anymore because it's finally here! Without a cloud in sight, sandals in hand, and perfectly painted toes (check out our article here to learn about which nail polishes are safe to buy!), you're ready for the best summer cookout yet. You remembered the cooler, the fruit salad, and even dad's favorite burger spatula, but melamine, a toxic chemical that disrupts hormone regulation, might be the last thing you'd be expecting to show up at a summer picnic. You might even know what I'm talking about. You know, those brightly patterned, super cute, practically irresistible plates that don't look plastic, but aren't really ceramic either?
What Even Is Melamine?
Melamine is chemical compound originally found to be toxic only in large quantities and in those cases, results in negative effects on kidney function. However, new research is shedding light on just how much damage can be done to the human body from ingesting melamine. Exposure to melamine has negative impacts on brain development and reproductive functions because it changes how hormones work in the body (1).
Where is Melamine Found?
Melamine can be found in pretty much every type of dishware, cups, plates, bowls and utensils as the compound makes these things dishwasher safe, inexpensive to produce, and extremely durable (2). Remember how I mentioned before that these plates don't look like they're plastic? Now would probably be a good time to reiterate the dangers of plastic dishware and talk about how melamine dishware is deceivingly safe. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods. Don't go putting those hot-of-the-grill burgers onto your new summer plates!
Bottom line: stay away from dishes and containers made of plastic and melamine. As always, we've rounded up the best melamine and plastic-free outdoor dishware to make the transition easier (updated for 2019!) We also have some great options for melamine-free baby dishes.
How Do I Prevent Melamine Ingestion?
Unfortunately, melamine is not a compound that has been phased out of industry use as it possesses many desirable physical properties (3). The good thing though is that you can avoid it. In many cases, dishware will explicitly state that melamine has been added, which makes it easy to avoid. Like we mentioned above, melamine leeches when used to hold hot or acidic foods, so only use dishware that may contain melamine for cold and non-acidic dishes (leave the gazpacho soup for a melamine-free bowl). One great idea is to simply use the metal pots and pans that you cook (as long as they aren't non-stick) with indoors for cookouts outdoors, as those are both heat and acid resistant and 100% melamine-free (an added bonus: less dishes to wash!). When it comes to reheating food, make sure to microwave foods in melamine-free dishware. Glass storage containers or ceramic dishware are a good alternative for both reheating and serving food in.
If you're looking to switch things up entirely, purchasing a new set of melamine-free dishware will be your safest bet. Here are our general recommendations!
- Molded bamboo dishware. Unfortunately bamboo dishware is not microwave safe because of fragility of fibers, but is acid safe, so serve caprese salad to your heart's content in these dishes (4)! Just be careful that they don't use melamine to bind the bamboo.
- Glass or ceramic dishware. We particularly like tempered glass for kids and outdoor eating as it's very sturdy and hard to break.
- Stainless steel dishes. These can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food in after items have been reheated. There are also great stainless steel cups and tumblers for outdoor use.
- Enameled dishes. Not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!
With some savvy shopping skills, you can make sure that your summer picnics all all fun and games. What are you waiting for? If you want to see our picks, see our updated for 2019 list of best plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes.