Debra Lynn Dadd

Safe Dinnerware


Do you have a suggestion for safe, non-toxic everday dinnerware?

POSTED BY J. W. :: ARIZONA USA :: 12/13/2005


Personally, I stay away from plastic dishware of any kind. Personally, I have an assorted collection of dishware and glassware that includes clear glass, handmade pottery, recycled glass, and an old set of Wedgewood china that was given to me as a gift.

Aside from plastic--which is obviously identifiable--the most important thing to watch out for is the lead used in glazes. And it's not just brightly colored dishware from other countries that is a problem--most major manufacturers of dinnerware sold in department stores and home-decorating shops still use lead glazes, without labeling them as such. The federal government prohibits the sale of dinnerware that releases lead in amounts greater than 2,000 ppb which prevents direct cases of lead poisoning, but the state of California requires warning labels on any dishware that releases lead in amounts greater than 224 ppb, to protect against long-term health risks.

I like to purchase dishware from local potters. Many now use lead-free glazes and you can ask them directly if lead-free glaze was used.

The other option is to test a sample of the dishware with a home lead-testing swabs. That way you know for sure.

I've listed some links to websites with safe dinnerware on Debra's List.

And here is a link with a long list of dinnerware brands that meet the California standards. Remember these are not necessarily lead-free, but rather those that meet the California standards.

Environmental Defense has an excellent article on lead in dinnerware that includes phone numbers for some major manufacturers that can tell you about the glazes used on specific patterns. See Lead in China Dishes: A Buyer's Guide.

Debra :-)


I am interested to know, if a dishware says Microwave Safe, Oven Safe, Dishwasher Safe and Freezer Safe, can one assume that it's lead free? I don't know if the dishware contains lead it would still be classified as Microwave Safe. Anybody know?

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: I would say that one could NOT assume it was lead safe. Here's an explanation of what "microwave safe" means, from How Things Work: Microwave Ovens:
If a plate is "microwave safe," it will barely absorb the microwaves and heat extremely slowly. In effect, the microwave oven will be operating empty and the electromagnetic fields inside it will build up to extremely high levels. Since the walls of the oven are mirrorlike and the plate is almost perfectly transparent to microwaves, the electromagnetic waves streaming out of the oven's magnetron tube bounce around endlessly inside the oven's cooking chamber. The resulting intense fields can produce various types of electric breakdown along the walls of the cooking chamber and thereby damage the surface with burns or arcs. Furthermore, the intense microwaves in the cooking chamber will reflect back into the magnetron and can upset its internal oscillations so that it doesn't function properly. Although magnetrons are astonishingly robust and long-lived, they don't appreciate having to reabsorb their own emitted microwaves. In short, your plates will heat up slowly and you'll be aging your microwave oven in the process. You could wet the plates before putting them in the microwave oven to speed the heating and decrease the wear-and-tear on the magnetron, but then you'd have to dry the plates before use.

If a plate isn't "microwave safe," then it will absorb microwaves and heat relatively quickly. If it absorbs the microwaves uniformly and well, then you can probably warm it to the desired temperature without any problems as long as you know exactly how many seconds it takes and adjust for the total number of plates you're warming. If you heat a plate too long, bad things will happen. It may only amount to burning your fingers, but some plates can't take high temperatures without melting, cracking, or popping. Unglazed ceramics that have soaked up lots of water will heat rapidly because water absorbs microwaves strongly. Water trapped in pores in such ceramics can transform into high-pressure steam, a result that doesn't seem safe to me. And if a plate absorbs microwaves nonuniformly, then you'll get hotspots or burned spots on the plate. Metalized decorations on a plate will simply burn up and blacken the plate. Cracks that contain water will overheat and the resulting thermal stresses will extend the cracks further. So this type of heating can be stressful to the plates.

POSTED BY AM :: CA USA :: 03/13/2007 2:57 AM

Hi Debra,

With the recent articles on the lead problems with products from China, I've been reading up on the use of lead glaze in dishes and it seems that almost all dishes use some form of lead in their glazes, low level or not. What especially worries me, it seems that after long term use, previously safe plates could begin to begin to release lead.

Should I be concerned about my coffee mugs, my china teapot, etc? I don't know if they are made with safe glazes or not. If there is a chip or a hairline crack in the mug, does this increase the likelihood of lead being released?

If I switch to only using glass plates, cups etc, will that be safer?

Thank you!

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: I'm not sure on what you base your comment "it seems that almost all dishes use some form of lead in their glazes". That's the first I've heard that. I've already given links above to website that address this issue and recommended using swabs to check your personal dinnerware for lead. If there is a crack, it may release more lead, but I don't know that for sure. Glass plates, cups etc do not have lead glazes and are perfectly safe, particularly clear glass.

POSTED BY DANI :: ONTARIO CANADA :: 09/10/2007 1:32 PM

This is something that I'm investigating as well, as I have two children, ages 2 and 5.

I know that vaccines that state that they are mercury-free are not 100% free of mercury. They still containe .05 micrograms of methylmercury. So following this line of reasoning, I emailed Homer Laughlin Company, makers of lead-free Fiestaware, and asked if their dishware was 100% free of lead, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals. They replied that their dinnerware tested for .02 ppm of lead and cadmium. They did not comment on whether their dishware was free of other toxic heavy metals (I've read on other websites that their dishware contained aluminum, so I wanted to verify this, but the company did not address the aluminum issue.) They also commented that it was not possible to be 100% free of anything.

My next question to them is going to be whether they are measuring leachable lead and cadmium and will ask again if their dishware contains aluminum. I've since looked for glass dishware. The Anchor Hocking Company produces glass dishware, serveware, and storage containers that are made in the USA, but I can't find a whole dishware set anywhere. If anyone knows where Anchor's dishware sets are sold, I'd appreciate the information.

I am not sure if I am being too extreme with the lead-free and cadmium-free dishware issue. If anyone is more informed with this issue, I'd really appreciate a reply post.

One other question: Does anyone know about APILCO dishware? The white dishware sets, made in France, are supposed to be lead and cadmium-free.

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: The safest, least expensive dishware and glassware I know of is plain, clear glass dishware. Crate & Barrel has the best selection I know of in their stores and online.

POSTED BY S. LEE :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 09/12/2007 9:09 AM

Can you tell me if melamine dinnerware from china is safe? thanks, Annie

COMMENT FROM DEBRA: Melamine is one of a family of plastics called "thermoset", which means that the plastic is very hard due to the fact that the molecules are very tightly bonded. Because of this tight bonding of the molecules, thermoset plastics do not outgass in the same way soft plastics do. They also do not contain the toxic plasticizers soft plastics need to keep them flexible.

It is made from cyanamide and formaldehyde, but by the time it goes through its chemical reactions, the final melamine has very little toxicity, about the same as table salt. Very small amounts of melemine have been found to migrate into food, though keep in mind that what is migrating is considered to have little toxicity.

Environmentally, the production of melamine releases a fair amount of ammonia and waste water.

I wouldn't call melamine as safe to use for dinnerware as glass, but it is safer than soft plastic and it doesn't contain lead.

TOXNET Hazardous Substances Databank - Melamine

POSTED BY ANNIE :: CALIFORNIA USA :: 09/24/2007 12:41 PM


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