Whether you’ve invited friends for dinner, are serving a Sunday roast, celebrating a special occasion, or are just enjoying a meal after a regular workday, there’s likely dinnerware laid out. Dinnerware could include salad plates and soup bowls with a fancier lean, or your everyday use plates that you have for a big table for place settings or a snack sitting on the couch. According to your tastes, what you received on your wedding day, what happened to be in fashion at the time, or what may have been passed down from family members, it’s also likely your dinnerware is colored, decorated, or vintage. What may also be likely, but what you may not be aware of, is that your dinnerware – also referred to as tableware – could be toxic.
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What is Toxic in Dinnerware?
Ceramics such as porcelain, stoneware, earthenware, and china are all commonly used for dinnerware and have been used to store and serve food for centuries. However, the glaze that completes dinnerware – giving it a smooth and shiny look, as well as enhancing bright colors and decorations – can make it toxic. These glazes often contain heavy metals like lead that can leach into food and drinks. While lead is a naturally occurring element, it can be toxic to humans. Its accumulated presence in the human body can cause lead poisoning and have serious health consequences, especially for children as they absorb more lead than adults do.
Lead has been used in ceramics for centuries not only for bright colors and shiny surfaces, but because it seals the product and improves durability. This is generally safe, as long as the glaze is fired at the right temperature, binding the lead to the surface. Problems occur when products are not properly fired, not tested, or improperly used, causing lead, as well as other heavy metals, to leach and other toxic chemicals into food and drinks.
In 1971, the FDA started regulating lead levels in ceramics. Today allowable levels of lead have been established for glazed ceramic pottery (for food use), as well as silver flatware and tableware. However, lead is bio-accumulative – meaning it builds up in your body over time – so even trace small amounts of lead could be harmful if you’re using these plates for a long time. Continued and regular use of dinnerware containing lead may allow it to build up its presence in your body. Furthermore, acidic foods and drinks like coffee, citrus, and wine can quicken the breakdown of glazes, as can heating up dinnerware especially to a high temperature, thus increasing the risk of lead leaching into your food and drinks.
Cadmium is another heavy metal commonly found in dinnerware. It is also bio-accumulative and can pose health risks. When it comes to dinnerware, it is usually found in glazed ceramics made in bright colors like red, orange, and yellow. Plastic dinnerware does not pass muster either, as it may contain bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. It’s best to avoid these harmful chemicals and go with safer options to prevent health issues.
And don’t forget, it’s not just your dinner plates, butter plates (who knew that was something we needed!?) that can have these toxic chemicals, but your drink ware and coffee mugs, too.
Which Materials are Considered Safest for Dinnerware?
Ceramic dinnerware can still be used. After all, most dinnerware is made out of one kind of ceramic or another and no one material is perfect. Whatever you choose, ensure it is manufactured properly and choose strong, durable materials. Chips, cracks, scratches, and other forms of damage may also increase the risk of toxins leaching into food and drinks, so the better the quality, the safer the dish.
Bone china is a good option because it is strong, durable, and does not chip easily. Stoneware is usually a safer option than earthenware, as the former is fired at higher temperatures, making it stronger and more durable. One of the safest options is glass, particularly soda lime glass, borosilicate glass, and glass ceramic. While it may contain lead, it does not easily or noticeably leach out.
Ikea dinnerware is made out of feldspar porcelain and should be safe provided you purchase products manufactured after 2010, which is when they stopped using lead. They have also banned BPA in their food contact products and while trace amounts of naturally-occurring formaldehyde may be found, it is never added to their products.
But don’t stress, we’ve got some tips for you to look out for as well as 4 of the best non-toxic dinnerware brands to check out for some of the safest dishes for your dinner plate set.
Tips for Safer Dinnerware
If you’re concerned about your current dinnerware or are looking to stock your kitchen or dining room, here are a few tips to guide you in making safer choices. The best part? You don’t have to use paper plates or plastic plates which are hard on the environment (hello, fossil fuels, you’ve got to go) and can still contain toxic materials, nor do you have to switch to an all stainless steel set and give off camping vibes. You can have safe, beautiful dinnerware for your home!
- When shopping for dinnerware, choose lead-free or lead-safe options.
- Look for dinnerware that adheres to FDA or California’s Proposition 65 standards.
- Keep an eye out for labels such as “for decorative purposes only” or “not food-safe”.
- The less decoration and color the better. Stick to clear or white varieties.
- Get a home test kit. You can find them at hardware stores, but know that they are not completely reliable.
- Avoid vintage dinnerware, especially if it was manufactured before 1970. If you already own these, use them for decorative purposes instead.
- Avoid storing food and drinks in glazed containers.
- Avoid serving acidic food and drinks on or in glazed dishes.
- Limit heating up food and drinks in glazed dinnerware. Do not use a high heat with glazed dinnerware.
- Handwash glazed dinnerware instead of putting it in the dishwasher.
- Do not use damaged dinnerware.
- Avoid melamine and leaded crystal.
- Look for BPA- and phthalate-free plastics.
4 Non-Toxic Dinnerware Options
Corelle White Frost Collection
Launched in 1970, Corelle is a dinnerware brand that uses three layers of tempered glass known as Vitrelle®. Durable, lightweight, and chip resistant, Corelle has long been a popular choice for dinnerware.
However, their products manufactured prior to 2005 contain lead, so it’s best to stick to their newer ranges. For a safer choice, stick to their white color ranges, such as the Corelle White Frost Collection, which can be used in the oven and microwave and is dishwasher safe and are a great option for an affordable price.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, East Fork designs and manufactures durable ceramic dishware, including a variety of beautiful and functional dinnerware that is dishwasher and microwave safe.
East Fork uses glazes that are formulated and mixed in-house. These glazes are free of lead and other heavy metals. Glazes are sent to an independent third-party lab to be tested, and comply with FDA and Prop 65 standards.
Working with high quality materials and conscious processes that emphasize their sustainability goals, Fable Home creates timeless and durable pieces perfect for the dinner table.
Microwave and dishwasher safe (and oven safe up to 450°F), Fable Home’s products are compliant with Glazed Ceramics and Glassware Regulations (GCGR), as well as FDA and Prop 65 standards. They undergo strict testing and are free of lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals.
Fiesta’s roots extend back to the 19th century, making pottery ware in East Liverpool, Ohio. The company has expanded into the 21st century, becoming a leading dinnerware brand supplying the restaurant industry. It has also become increasingly popular with home cooks and constantly pops up on bridal registries.
Formerly known as The Homer Laughlin China Company, the name was changed to The Fiesta Tableware Company, taking its name from one of its most popular dinnerware ranges, Fiesta. Introduced in 1936, the range was an instant hit. It was discontinued in the 1970s but brought back in 1986 boasting lead-free glazes and a vitrified china body. By 1992, all the company’s products became “lead-free”. Fiesta dinnerware is safe for use in the microwave, oven, freezer, and dishwasher and still looks great on your dining table.
What do you think? Which non-toxic dinnerware set would you like to try?
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