Melamine dishes, bowls, cups and saucers can be harmful when used to serve certain food, according to health officials.

by Andrew Schneider on June 4, 2009

Sometimes there are things that we should just stop using.

Take melamine for an example.

The plastic-like substance has been used for tens of thousands of products such as Formica countertops, whiteboards, tiles and fabric. And let’s not forget the scratched and stained tableware from the 50s and 60s called Melmac that still magically migrates from one yard sale to the next.

melamine
But tens of millions of pieces of melamine eating-ware are still being produced, mostly in Chinese factories, and sold throughout the world.

This week, health officials in Indonesia ran tests of 62 samples of melamine plates, bowls, spoons and forks. The head of the country’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency said that “30 of them released formaldehyde when used for anything hot, watery or acidic,” the Jakarta Globe reported.

In Korea, food scientists tested eight different brands of Chinese-made melamine dinnerware in January and February and found that 88 percent of the plates and bowls released formaldehyde when heated in a microwave.

And last week in Hong Kong, officials with the Consumer Council told the Hong Kong Standard that it had checked 300 melamine products from 20 household goods and chain stores, and only 5 percent of samples were properly labeled to warn customers not to use them in microwaves.

The head of the Indonesian FDA said, “Melamine resin products were relatively safe to use for some dry foods or cookies,” according to the paper.

German scientists developed melamine in the early 1800s. Today, worker safety warning information affixed to barrels and drums of melamine caution that the material is “harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Chronic exposure may cause cancer or reproductive damage.”

Food scientists in the U.S. say that there are melamine products in which it’s safe to cook and serve, but because of inadequate labeling it’s almost impossible to tell the safe products from those that can release formaldehyde.

Importers estimate that millions of pieces of melamine eating ware is imported from Asia into the U.S. and Canada every year.

The Chinese created havoc with melamine in 2007 when it was added to pet food, killing thousands of dogs and cats throughout the world. Last year, over 50,000 infants in China were poisoned when milk producers added the compound to fraudulently boost the protein level in milk, thus getting higher prices.

U.S., Canadian and European manufacturers lost millions when they had to toss out thousands of products ¬— including the most popular candies and snacks and beverage mixes — because they used melamine-tainted dry milk from China in their processes.

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