Is Your Dinnerware Toxic? | The Risks of Lead, Cadmium, BPA, and Melamine Exposure

Are you unwittingly serving up a side of chemicals with your meals? In our quest to explore the safety of everyday kitchenware, we’ll uncover the potential risks associated with common materials like lead, cadmium, BPA, and melamine found in plates, dishes, and utensils. 

As we navigate through Proposition 65 warnings, FDA regulations, and expert studies, our aim is to equip you with the knowledge needed to make safer, healthier choices for your table. So, let’s ask the burning question: Is your dinnerware toxic?

The Conscious Insider is reader supported. When you buy something we recommend, we might earn an affiliate commission at no extra charge for you.

Is Your Dinnerware Toxic?

1. Cadmium

Cadmium is a natural element. It’s mainly used to make batteries. However it can be found in decorative paints on some glassware, tableware and pottery.

Toxicity of Cadmium

Cadmium is widely recognized as a human carcinogen. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have both classified cadmium as a known human carcinogen. Exposure to cadmium has been scientifically linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly lung cancer, and possibly prostate and kidney cancer.

Proposition 65, a regulation in California, also recognizes the dangers of cadmium. It lists cadmium and its compounds as substances that can cause not only cancer but also birth defects and other reproductive harm. This is particularly concerning for pregnant women, as exposure to cadmium during pregnancy can negatively impact a child’s development.

According to the CDC, the immediate effects of cadmium exposure can be quite severe. Acute inhalation can lead to flu-like symptoms such as chills, fever, and muscle pain, and it can damage the lungs. On the other hand, chronic exposure to lower levels of cadmium over a longer period can lead to serious health issues like kidney disease, bone disease, and lung disease.

Is there Cadmium in my dinnerware?

You might be wondering if the dinnerware you use every day has cadmium in it. It’s a valid concern, given how common this metal can be in various household items.

Cadmium is often used in the decorative paints that give some glassware, tableware, and pottery their bright red, yellow, and orange colors. When these items are used for food and beverages, there’s a possibility that cadmium could be released into what you eat and drink.

According to the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: When CDC scientists measured cadmium levels in people’s blood, they found it in most participants. It turns out that both blood and urinary levels of cadmium tend to increase with age, as noted in the report.

Unfortunately, there is no way to determine by how it looks whether a piece of dinnerware has a high level of cadmium in it. The only way to be sure is to verify that your dinnerware items do not have a Prop 65 warning.

2. Lead

Recent studies found that about 500,000 children in the United States have elevated levels of lead in their blood. 

Lead is mainly found in paint. It can also be present in the glazing and decorations on some ceramic dishes, including plates and other dinnerware.

Toxicity of Lead

Lead is identified as a toxic substance with the potential to harm individuals of any age. A key characteristic of lead is its cumulative nature in the human body. Even exposure to small amounts, over time, can result in significant health risks.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lead’s toxicity and its potential effects on human health are well-documented. This is further supported by its inclusion on California’s Proposition 65 list.

The specific risks of lead exposure are multi-faceted. For pregnant women, lead exposure can have detrimental effects on the developing brain of the fetus, potentially leading to learning and behavioral issues in the child. Moreover, lead exposure can also impact the reproductive systems of both men and women, causing various reproductive health issues.

Additionally, lead and lead compounds are listed under Proposition 65 due to their carcinogenic potential. There is evidence to suggest that exposure to lead and its compounds may increase the risk of cancer. 

Is there Lead in my dinnerware?

Lead is a toxic substance that can be found in various household items. In addition to being present in coatings such as varnishes, lacquers, stains, enamels, glazes, or primers, lead is used in the glazes or decorations covering the surface of some ceramic dishes.

When lead is used in dinnerware, it can leach into food and drink that are prepared, stored, or served in these dishes. The amount of lead that leaches depends on several factors, including the amount of lead in the dish, the type of glazing used, how the dish is used, the kind of food placed in it, and the duration for which food is kept in the dish.

Lead exposure from tableware can be a serious health threat, particularly for children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. Some dishes contain enough lead to cause severe lead poisoning, and even those with lower lead levels may contribute to overall lead exposure.

Identifying whether a dish contains lead can be challenging. However, certain types of dishes are more likely to contain lead. According to the CDC, these include:

  • Traditional glazed terra cotta ware made in some Latin American countries, such as Mexican bean pots. They are often quite rustic and usually have a transparent glaze. Unless they are specifically labeled as lead-free or sin plomo (Spanish), use of these pots for cooking is especially hazardous.
  • Highly decorated traditional dishes used in some Asian communities.
  • Home-made or hand-crafted tableware, either from the U.S. or a foreign country, unless you are sure the maker uses a lead-free glaze.
  • Bright colors or decorations, as lead is often used with these pigments to increase their intensity.
  • Decorations on top of the glaze instead of beneath it. If the decorations are rough or raised, if you can feel the decoration when you rub your finger over the dish, or if you can see brush strokes above the glazed surface, the decoration is probably on top of the glaze. If the decoration has begun to wear away, there may be an even greater lead hazard.
  • Antique tableware handed down in families, or found in antique stores, flea markets and garage sales. These dishes were made before lead in tableware was regulated.
  • Corroded glaze, or a dusty or chalky grey residue on the glaze after the piece has been washed. Tableware in this condition may represent a serious lead hazard and should not be used.
  • Lead is rarely found in plain white dishes. Lead-containing glazes or decorations on the outside of dishes or non-food surfaces are generally not a problem.

How can I reduce my exposure to Lead?

To reduce lead exposure from dishes, it is advised not to use tableware that might contain lead, especially for cooking, microwaving, or storing acidic foods and drinks. 

Lead-testing kits are available for consumers to check their dishes. If a dish is found to contain leachable lead, it is strongly advised not to use it for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks. Additionally, dishes with a warning label stating “Not for Food Use—May Poison Food” should not be used for food-related purposes. Washing, boiling, or other processes cannot remove lead from pottery.

According to the FDA, Using a dishwasher for dishes containing lead can damage the glazed surface, increasing the likelihood of lead leaching into food. Lead can also contaminate other dishes in the dishwasher. 

Finally, Lead leaching can occur even if the surface of the dish is not broken or worn, and the level of lead exposure from dishes can vary over time, potentially increasing as dishes age.

3. Melamine

Melamine, a versatile chemical, is used in various industries in the United States. It is approved by the FDA for making certain cooking utensils, plates, plastic items, paper, paperboard, and industrial coatings. In some regions globally, melamine is also used as a fertilizer. Melamine is used in creating packaging for food products.

Toxicity of Melamine

Whether pure or mixed with other substances, melamine doesn’t tolerate heat well, releasing toxic molecules like formaldehyde. Therefore, heating melamine dishes in the microwave can release dangerous chemicals.

Melamine toxicity is a significant health concern. When products are contaminated with melamine levels higher than those deemed safe by the FDA’s risk assessment, individuals may be at risk of serious health issues. These include kidney stones, kidney failure, and in severe cases, death. 

Symptoms of melamine poisoning can manifest as irritability, blood in the urine, reduced or absent urine output, indications of kidney infection, and high blood pressure. 

Is there Melamine in my dinnerware?

Recently, there’s been increasing scrutiny about the presence of melamine in dinnerware, particularly in products manufactured in China. The Taiwan Consumers’ Foundation found that some plastic tableware from China contained melamine at a level of 20,000 parts per billion. According to the FDA, “this left-over melamine can migrate very slowly out of the plastic into food that comes into contact with the tableware.

A study conducted by a French consumer association revealed that in a sample of bamboo objects, examined from a range of manufacturers, importers, and distributors, approximately 13.8% exhibited issues with melamine-formaldehyde migration. 

Since 2022, EU countries, including France, have increased controls on “non-conventional plastics” such as melamine-infused bamboo.

4. BPA

BPA is a chemical used in a variety of plastics, resins, and coatings.

Toxicity of BPA

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that has raised concerns due to its potential health effects, leading to its inclusion on the Proposition 65 list. This listing is particularly due to BPA’s potential to harm the development of babies and negatively impact the female reproductive system, including the ovaries and eggs.

Responding to these concerns, the FDA has made significant amendments to its Food Additive Regulations. These changes particularly affect products for infants and young children. In July 2012, the FDA removed BPA-based polycarbonate resins from its approved materials for manufacturing baby bottles and sippy cups. 

Similarly, in July 2013, the FDA amended its regulations to exclude the use of BPA-based epoxy resins as coatings in infant formula packaging. 

These regulatory changes reflect a growing awareness and caution regarding the use of BPA in products, especially those intended for infants and young children.

Is there BPA in my dinnerware?

According to California’s Proposition 65, there are several sources where Bisphenol A (BPA) might be found, and this includes certain types of dinnerware. BPA exposure can come from:

  • Linings inside some metal food and drink cans, as well as jar lids and bottle caps.

  • Polycarbonate plastic items. This category includes certain water bottles, jugs for water dispensers, dishes, utensils, cookware, food storage containers, and electric kettles. These items, made from a hard type of plastic, often bear the recycling codes 3 or 7.

  • Baby bottles and sippy cups manufactured before July 2012 might also contain BPA.

  • Some forms of polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC or vinyl). This includes certain types of plastic food wraps and vinyl gloves.

Non-Toxic Dinnerware Alternatives, and More

Looking for a safer, healthier alternative for your kitchenware? We’ve got you covered! Our selection of dinnerware, flatware, water bottles, glassware, and cookware is completely free from harmful chemicals. That means no worrying about dangerous substances in your meals or drinks – just good, clean, and safe utensils for your everyday use.



Flatware & Silverware

Cookware such as Airfryers, Pans, Slowcookers, etc 

Share this post