Weighing the Health Risks of Melamine Tableware

Are they safe for eating?

melamine dishes

Dwight Burdette (Own work) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Melamine is a chemical used in the manufacturing of plastic dishes, cups, and other tableware. It gives the dishes a harder, more durable feel than standard plastic. Melamine dishes were popular when introduced during the 1950s and 60s, but when Corelle arrived on the scene in the early 1970s, Melamine faded into the background.

While Corelle is still highly desired today because of its 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, durability, and affordability of these plastic dishes that make them an appealing option.

Melamine Health Concerns

Melamine manufactured-dishes have been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within certain guidelines. According to the FDA, safety tests were conducted by The Taiwan Consumers' Foundation of tableware made in China. The 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.

Under most conditions, the amount of melamine that migrates from the dish into the food is so low that it poses no health risks. The exception is when serving highly acidic foods, especially when heated, or when serving food or drink to infants. Infants are more susceptible to melamine poisoning, and using melamine cups to serve formula and milk should be avoided.

While melamine poisoning is extremely rare, it can lead to kidney stones and kidney failure.

How to Properly Use Melamine

The FDA has conducted its own safety and risk assessment and concluded that melamine tableware does not pose a health risk, but they do recommend care when using it. Adhere to the following tips to ensure you are using melamine dishware in the safest way possible.

  • Do not use melamine tableware for infants or young children.
  • Never heat food or drinks in melamine, including in the microwave (the risk of migration is higher when heated). Only ceramic or other microwave-safe dishes should be used to heat food.
  • Avoid serving highly acidic foods, which also increases the chance of migration. This risk is higher when heated.

While some cautions should be taken when using melamine dishes, they are by and large safe to use. Melamine tableware is easy-to-clean and durable, making it perfect for many at-home uses.

  • Use to serve cold or room temperature drinks.
  • Serve finger foods and other dishes that have been heated in other, heat-safe containers.
  • Bowls and plates are safe for serving room-temperature or cold foods like sandwiches, salads, and more.
  • Trays can be used to carry serving items and cold snacks.

Keep in mind that safety standards do vary considerably by country and these types of dishes are usually imported. What is deemed microwavable in one country may not be up-to-standard in another. To ensure the highest safety standards, heat foods in non-melamine, heat-safe containers.