Melamine dinnerware has long been a parent’s best friend (it’s durable enough to survive temper tantrums and high-chair hijinks), but it’s also become super popular in the past couple of years, as more designers have taken to the material to experiment with funky designs and summer barbecue-friendly patterns. (See Bon Appetit’s roundup from last July: “Unbreakable, unmeltable, unmistakably beautiful: These melamine plates and platters can handle the great outdoors–and your dishwasher.”) A new study points out one really big drawback, whether you’re using it to serve baby food or ribs: If it gets hot enough, melamine actually leaches toxic chemicals into your food, and can end up causing kidney stones and other averse reactions in children and adults.
Is Melamine Safe?
To investigate the safety of the popular alternative to plastic plates, researchers asked a small group of volunteers to eat 500mL of hot noodle soup from melamine bowls and ceramic bowls. Then, they collected urine samples at two hour intervals and tested for total melamine excretion. Three weeks later, the volunteers returned for the same experiment, but this time, the subjects who ate out of melamine bowls ate out of ceramic, and vice versa.
Test results showed that when subjects ate out of melamine bowls showed over six times as much melamine excretion as those who ate out of ceramic.
Melamine is approved by the FDA for use in food packaging, utensils, dinnerware, and even fertilizers, so most people would assume that it’s safe. And while this study is just preliminary–they haven’t conducted detailed tests to find out whether certain brands of melamine dinnerware are more or less risky, and at what temperatures melamine starts to leach into food–researchers still think it’s reason enough to proceed with caution. Dr. Ken Spaeth, who wasn’t involved in the study, told TIME:
It is a very small study, but it raises questions. It suggests that the chemical can migrate from kitchenware to food and into us, and can reach levels higher than we previously thought to be the case.
In terms of what science tells us right now, it’s too early to sound the alarm, but we can use reasonable amount of caution. If someone is worried, they can decrease exposure by not buying melamine kitchenware, not heating up food in it or using it for prolonged storage.
So, pull out the Jonathan Adler dinnerware for potato salad, but try not to use it for your next bowl of ramen.
Photo: flickr user jewell willett