Is melamine safe in dishes?

Written by michelle powell-smith
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Melamine dishes are sold as practical, unbreakable family dishware. Many pieces of melamine dishware are specifically aimed at children. After recent news stories on melamine contamination in such things as pet foods and infant formula, many consumers are questioning the safety of melamine dishes. What should you know about melamine safety and melamine dishes before you use them in your home and kitchen?

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What Is Melamine?

Melamine is an organic compound, created by combining urea with formaldehyde to produce a hard and sturdy resin. Melamine resin is fire and heat resistant, durable, and versatile. It is used to produce tiles, whiteboard and a variety of kitchen items, including melamine dishes.

History

Melamine was first developed in the 1830s. It was first regularly used for plastics and laminates in the 1930s. Melamine dishes were used on U.S. Navy ships during World War II. In the 1950s, amid a desire for everything new and modern, melamine or "Melmac" dinnerware became both a stylish and practical addition to the American home. Melamine dishes scratched easily and fell out of favour in the 1970s.

Features

Melamine dinnerware is not breakable, making it an apparently good choice for families and children. It is dishwasher safe. It is not microwave or oven safe. The dishes are light, can be moulded into various shapes and designs, and can be brightly coloured or printed. By all appearances, melamine dishes are practical and convenient.

Risks of Melamine

Melamine has, unfortunately, been added to pet foods and infant formula as a cheap filler. Chemically, the substance shows up as a protein if a nutritional analysis is performed. In humans, melamine can cause kidney stones and renal failure. Both cats and dogs have died from melamine-contaminated pet foods. While it is clear that consuming melamine is dangerous, does that mean that melamine dishes are dangerous?

Potential

Some melamine dishware may leach melamine monomer. This is especially true if your melamine dishes are scratched or damaged. You can reduce the risk of leaching by gently hand washing melamine, avoiding heating your melamine dishes and disposing of damaged melamine. Bamboo, BPA-free plastics, stainless steel and glass or china are safer alternatives.

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