Why you should think twice before busting out your collectibles for the holidays.

Is Vintage Dishware Safe to Use?

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Are you someone who collects antiques or enjoys scrounging local flea markets in search of the perfect vintage collectibles? Or perhaps you keep ceramic dishware or crystalware in your kitchen cabinets that've been passed down from previous generations and get dusted off for the holidays. While retro touches in the kitchen are fun and budget-friendly, you might want to think twice about using your family heirlooms or other collectibles when preparing, serving or storing food or drinks. Vintage dishware (which technically means older than 20 years) can potentially expose you and your family to poisonous lead. We break down what vintage and ceramic items might have lead, why it's important, and what you can do about it.

Lead in ceramics (think mugs, casserole dishes, serving platters and more)

Unfortunately, plates, bowls, and mugs, can release lead into our food and drinks. Traditionally lead was used as a main ingredient in the paint and glaze for most ceramic dishware because it provides strength and gives the dishware a smooth, clear finish. Lead and cadmium (another toxic heavy metal) can also add vibrancy to paint colors, making it a lucrative addition to ceramics. Areas of kitchenware that might have higher levels of lead include decorative painting, especially brightly colors (think red, yellow!), and decals or logos that are added onto glazed pieces.

Before 1971, there were no limits on lead in dinnerware and ceramics, so vintage items from before then are very likely to have unsafe levels of lead. Starting in 1971, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to enforce limits on the amount of leachable lead in ceramics and tableware. Acceptable leachable lead concentrations in ceramics have decreased since then as the danger posed by lead-contaminated ceramics has become increasingly apparent. While incredibly important, these limits do not completely get rid of lead in ceramic dishware. The current limit is 0.5 μg/mL and ceramics are tested when they are new, not as they wear over the lifetime of a product. If you have dinnerware that was made during this time, it's possible that the allowable lead limits are still above what is considered acceptable now. In fact, it's still possible to buy new ceramics that contain lead, especially if they were made in a country that has weaker lead standards than the US.

Lead in crystal (think cocktail glasses, decanters, champagne flutes)

Just because ceramics are regulated doesn't mean there are lead limits for everything. Even though ceramics have lead limits, there are no current Federal standards for the amount of lead allowed to be leached from crystal glassware. Traditional glassware contains around 50% silica (sand) and no lead content, whereas "crystal" glassware is made of silica and lead oxide and is typically used for champagne, wine, or spirits. The use of lead in crystal glassware makes it easier to work with, since it allows the glass to be formed at lower temperatures. Even though it's delicate and pretty, crystal glassware has a big risk of leaching lead. The FDA has issued warnings against giving children or infants "leaded crystal baby bottles, christening cups, or glassware" and against storing food or drink in leaded crystal containers. Many manufacturers no longer make leaded crystal, but if you have any vintage crystal, it's very likely that it has unsafe levels of lead.

Why Lead is a Big Deal (still!)

Lead risks seem to pop up somewhere new all the time, and lead in vintage dishware is not any more or less important than the usual lead suspects. Lead is especially harmful for children. Their tiny, developing bodies absorb much more lead than adults do, making their brains and nervous systems more vulnerable and sensitive to the damage caused by lead exposure. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are also very sensitive to the risks from lead because, over time, lead accumulates in our bodies and becomes absorbed in our bones. When a woman becomes pregnant, lead is released from our bones and can be passed on to the fetus in utero or while breastfeeding. This can cause the baby to be born prematurely, born with low birth weight, can impact the baby's growth and development, can increase the likelihood of learning or behavioral problems, and puts mothers at risk for miscarriage. There is also sufficient scientific evidence that lead exposure causes cardiovascular diseases in adults as well.

How to Avoid Lead in the Kitchen and Dinnerware

  1. Don't use vintage dishware to store, prepare or eat or drink from:
  • Don't store food in any dishes, antiques or collectibles that may contain lead, especially pieces made before 1971. Use vintage pieces for decoration only.
  • Women of child-bearing age should not use crystal to consume wine (or for any other purposes for that matter).
  • Don't store foods or beverages (especially acidic juices, alcoholic beverages, or vinegar) in crystalware or vintage dishware.
  1. Get your vintage and imported dishware tested for lead:
  • Always test vintage and imported dishware for lead or conduct a lead test yourself using a home lead test kit. LeadCheck ™ testing kits, sometimes called swab tests, are inexpensive and available in hardware stores. These kits are meant for paint and not ceramics, so they are not completely accurate.
  • Lab tests determine how much lead is present in products using acid or other dissolving agents. However, these methods can damage the product. To have your ceramics tested for lead, contact a certified lab by searching the National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program List.
  • Your state and local health departments may have more resources and services for lead testing.
  1. Do your research to make sure your dishware does not contain lead:
  • Before buying imported ceramics to be used for food and drinks, ask the supplier, the maker, or the FDA about the product's lead safety. Ask if ceramics and glass are lead-free.
  • Before buying artisanal pieces from neighborhood or craft shows, ask the artisan if they use lead in glazes/paints.
Food

Why It’s Not a Good Idea to Use Melamine Dishes for Kids

Plus, non-toxic alternatives that will withstand mealtime mayhem!

Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next tableware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too!

What is Melamine?

Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, which resulted in 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Yeah, it's bad news. While eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.

How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?

Many times the word 'melamine' will be in the product description or details. It's also pretty easy to identify if the product description isn't available to you. Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It looks tougher and feels harder than ordinary plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware.

What Do I Use Instead?

If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:

  • Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
  • Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
  • Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
  • Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
  • Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!

If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.

References

  1. Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
  2. Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.
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Roundups

Non-Toxic Kids' Dinnerware

Protecting kids' health and making meal time fun!

We know getting kids to eat at meal times can be a challenge, and that a lot of kid-friendly dinnerware is made from melamine. Why is it so hard to find a fun kid dinnerware that isn't made from harmful materials?! We shouldn't have to compromise health for functionality, which is why we rounded up our top 9 melamine free children's dinnerware! These plates, dishes, and utensils are all durable enough to withstand a temper tantrum but are made from safe materials like silicone, stainless steel, or tempered glass. Your kids will love the fun shapes and colors, and you'll love how sturdy they are!


a) Avanchy Bamboo Suction Plate
c) Innobaby Din Din Stainless Steel Divided Plate
c) ezpz Elmo Mat
d) Olababy Silicone Soft-Tip Training Spoon
e) Kiddobloom Kids Stainless Steel Utensil Set
f) Bumkins Silicone Divided Plate
g) Avanchy Suction Stainless Steel Bowl
h) Chewbeads Suction Silicone Bowls
i) Corelle Chip Resistant Loving Cat Plates

Food

Why It's Not a Good Idea to Use Melamine Dishes for Kids

Plus, non-toxic alternatives that will withstand mealtime mayhem

Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next dinnerware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are some good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too! If you're just looking for alternatives to melamine, check out our roundup of Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware.

What is Melamine?

Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, that led to 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, but research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.

How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?

Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It feels and looks harder than plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware. Many times the word melamine will be in the product description or details.

What Do I Use Instead Melamine?

If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:

  • Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
  • Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food in after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
  • Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
  • Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
  • Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!

If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.


References

  1. Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
  2. Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.
Food

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?

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Here's a simple swap on how to pick swoon-worthy plates without the toxins


If you're kitchen obsessed like me, you've probably poured over every IKEA, Pottery Barn, William Sonoma and Magnolia Home magazine scouring for the prettiest dishware to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether you're a food styling pro, or wouldn't mind eating off any type of plate, here's what you might not know. Depending on the style and manufacturer of dishware, there might be lead and cadmium hiding in the paint.

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