Weighing the health risks of Melamine tableware

Learn how to minimize any health risks from Melamine dishes

By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Melamine dishes are mostly chemically based plastic tableware. They were very popular when introduced during the 1950's and 1960's. However, when Corelle® arrived on the scene in the early 1970's, this durable lightweight dinnerware became the go-to everyday family choice and Melamine faded in the background.

While Corelle® is still highly desired today because of it's thin design and delicate porcelain look and feel, Melamine has once again regained its earlier popularity and has taken the general mercantile by storm.

It's the abundance and variety of colors and patterns that lure us to this virtually unbreakable dinnerware with its signature lightweight design. Of course, we can't ignore the affordability of these plastic dishes either. In fact, melamine is a popular dollar-store item.

Who can argue that plastic is super convenient? After all, who doesn't want plastic dishes they can use for the kid's picnic or for the toddler's lunch. And let's not forget how handy these can be for camping. But, Melamine does pose a health risk and though it can be minute and considered acceptable, it can worsen if the dishes are not used safely.

Concern has grown recently about whether the presence of melamine in plastic dinnerware, could pose a safety risk to our food. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a substance called melamine-formaldehyde resin is used in the manufacture of melamine dishes, as well as some other plastic containers.

According to the FDA, safety tests were conducted by The Taiwan Consumers' Foundation of tableware made in China, and results showed that during the manufacturing process, a small residue of the melamine compound could remain in the dish and under certain conditions, could migrate slowly to foods that come into contact with it.

The FDA has conducted its own safety and risk assessment and concluded that the tableware does not pose a health risk, but they do recommend care when using it. For more detail, read the FDA article to have a better understanding of their findings.

Is Melamine Worth the Risk?

The FDA has concluded from its own assessment that the safety risk is very low and within acceptable levels, but they do, however, caution the use of melamine dishes. There appears to be more risk when it comes to infants and children, who are more susceptible than adults to even the most minute chemical residue. In this light, my own recommendation would be NOT to use melamine tableware when feeding children.

As for the nice patterned melamine tableware and trays on the market today, since risk is considered low especially to adults, you have decided for yourself, just how much risk you're willing to absorb. Whether you buy and use them is of course up to you, but if you do, please follow these recommended use safety tips:

  • Do not use Melamine tableware for infants or children
  • Never heat food or drinks in melamine (the risk is higher when heated)
  • Never use melamine in the microwave, unless it is clearly marked 'microwave safe'.
  • Acidic foods also increase the risk, especially when heated.
  • Using melamine dinnerware to serve cold drinks and finger foods that have been heated on something else are considered well within safety guidelines
  • Trays to carry serving items and cold snacks should pose no significant threat
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Though melamine tableware has been deemed safe to use with caution, if in doubt or if you are losing any sleep over this product, it's just not worth the risk. Also keep in mind that safety standards do vary considerably by country and these types of dishes are usually imported. So, what is deemed 'microwavable' in one country may not be, in another where regulations are more stringent.

There are lots of other durable tableware alternatives on the market. And Corelle Dinnerware continues to be a popular and safer choice.

It also is ideal for RV's and campers, especially because of its lightweight construction. I would certainly recommend this choice over melamine.

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