Melamine might be BPA-free and phthalate-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Melamine is often used in children’s products, especially plates and cups, because it’s hard to break. But this durability comes at a price.
What is melamine?
Melamine resin is produced by combining the organic compound melamine with formaldehyde under heat and pressure. Thanks to its durability, stability and fire retardant properties, melamine is a versatile chemical compound that has a wide range of industrial uses. Beyond kitchenware, you’ll also find melamine in whiteboards, floor tiles, fabric, commercial filters and some foam products such as insulation, sound proofing materials and polymeric cleaning products such as magic erasers.
But backup a moment – formaldehyde? This is a known carcinogen, which means that we don’t want it near our food or plastics.
Does melamine leach off your plate and into your food?
Researchers in Taiwan found that melamine tableware may release large amounts of melamine when used to serve high-temperature foods.
Melamine also stains and scratches easily – these scratches leaching the chemical just as BPA plastics do.
What is wrong with melamine?
In high enough quantities, melamine can cause kidney stones and other kidney problems in adults. Remember the tainted baby formula scandal in China in 2008? Melamine had made its way into the baby formula, killing 6 babies. Those 6 babies may have already had low kidney function, but thousands more were sent to the hospital with kidney damage, from the intentional and highly illegal adulteration of baby formula with melamine somewhere along the supply chain to increase the apparent protein content.
It’s not disputed that melamine can leach out of tableware and into our food under heated conditions. It’s not disputed that acute poisoning of melamine can cause serious damage to our health or even death. What is unknown are the long term medical issues that may arise through continued low-dose exposure or medical issues related to increased levels of melamine.
We don’t even know if the body is storing the chemical. So for now, the FDA has taken an innocent until proven guilty approach to long term exposure of melamine in products, based on the scientific data they have available at the time. We don’t know what their position will be in the future – there is still enough concern to warrant further studies.
If the long term health risks aren’t enough to sway you, melamine is a thermoset material and is therefore not recyclable. Hello Charlie doesn’t stock melamine products for all these reasons.
What are the alternatives to melamine?
A kidney specialist interviewed for comment on the results of the Taiwanese study noted that whilst the study didn’t prove anything in relation to low levels of exposure to melamine and its health implications, if you can avoid it, why use it?
The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives. Other than the readily available but easily breakable ceramic, you could try tempered glass as it can take a good hammering and there are even options for children with silicone covers for extra durability.
Bamboo tableware is a safe alternative for the slightly bigger kids, keeping in mind that although it won’t smash into a bazillion pieces like ceramic, it may chip or crack if dropped.
You can also find stainless steel tableware. Stainless steel is lightweight, easy to clean and won’t break when knocked off the table or dropped on the floor.
Take a look at the better alternatives to melamine tableware in stock at Hello Charlie to learn more.
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