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Today’s post just makes me shake my head:
We shouldn’t even have to ask questions like “How can I tell if dishes have lead?”
But we do.
Sure, the FDA regulates the amount of lead used in dishes, but that “amount” should be ZERO.
And it’s not.
So now we have to address the possibility of lead leaching into our food. Let’s see how we can avoid that, shall we?
The Problem with Lead
Lead is a toxin that when ingested and accumulated in the body can affect multiple body systems.
Infants, young children, and pregnant women are at the greatest risk of its effects. However, anyone exposed to lead may suffer from its toxic effects.
Lead can be absorbed into the body by breathing, eating, or drinking something that is contaminated with it.
It then travels through the body via the blood and wreaks havoc wherever it lands.
It poses such a health risk because it is considered a heavy metal, meaning it stores and accumulates within the body, hence the term “heavy.”
Lead exposure can result in several medical issues including brain damage, which can then spiral into mental disorders, behavioral issues, and impaired intelligence.
Lead can also attack body functions such as the central nervous system and organs.
The body’s ability to absorb important nutrients like calcium and iron are also likely to be affected. Some of the results of lead exposure may be irreversible, especially brain damage in infants and young children.
Why Lead Is Used in Dishes
So with all these harmful side effects, why do companies use lead to begin with??
It’s all in the name of beauty.
Tableware manufacturers use lead for glazes and decorations to improve their product’s appearance.
When lead is used in a glaze, the finish is smooth and glasslike. Using lead also creates brighter, more vibrant colors for decorative patterns. The combination of brighter colors and the transparent glaze makes dishes more visually appealing.
If you’re reading this today, I’m guessing you feel the same way I do and care FAR more about health and safety than if my eating utensils are “pretty.”
So let’s look at how you can determine if your dishes contain lead and how to spot it as you shop.
What Type of Dishes Might Contain Lead?
With so many dishes available to purchase, it can be hard to distinguish which products pose a risk.
Fortunately, there are some common characteristics that you can look for to determine if dishes contain some level of lead.
Of course, not all products that have these traits are necessarily dangerous to use, but they provide a good starting point.
Try to avoid:
- Highly decorated dishes, especially those that are decorated on the surface where you eat.
- Tableware made in foreign countries, including traditional glazed terracotta dishware
- Homemade or handcrafted dishes, such as those found at craft fairs and artisan shops. (Note: many crafters produce lead-safe products, so it is a good habit to just ask.)
- Antique dishes, crocks, platters, etc. that are passed down in the family or that you may find at antique shops and flea markets.
- Used tableware found in thrift stores or yard sales. These products may have been manufactured prior to current regulations or in foreign countries.
- Anything with a corroded glaze, especially those with a dusty or chalky grey residue.
When shopping for safer dishes, here are a few things to look for:
- Plain white dishes
- Glazes and decorations on the non-food surface of the tableware
- Labels that indicate the product is lead-free, lead-safe, or meets Prop 65. Products labeled to meet California’s Proposition 65 have lead levels at a fraction of the FDA regulations.
- Products made by a local manufacturer or individual that is available at the time of purchase to ask if the tableware contains lead
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Testing for Lead at Home: DIY vs Professional
You don’t always have to throw away your current tableware and buy new to keep your family safe from lead.
You can first start by testing your dishes, then based on the results, decide if you want to keep or replace the items.
When testing for lead, there is more to consider than the amount of lead found in the product.
What you should be interested in is the amount of lead leaching that occurs.
“Leaching” is the term used to describe when lead leaves the tableware and enters your food or drink, which is then ingested.
DIY Test Kits
At-home test kits are available at many hardware stores and are inexpensive and easy to use.
You simply rub the swab over the product – if it turns pink or red, lead is present at a hazardous level.
Keep in mind that these kits do not detect extremely low levels of lead, and lead consumption at any level is considered dangerous.
Lab tests are conducted on products by agencies and groups such as the FDA. You may be able to get a copy of the testing information by inquiring with certain advocacy groups or the product manufacturer.
If you are serious about having a product tested, there are laboratories throughout the US that will test products for lead.
Keep in mind that these tests are done using acid or other agents that will most likely destroy the product being tested. For a list of potential labs, visit the National Lead Accreditation Program List published by the EPA.
If you aren’t interested in testing your tableware or are looking for information on new tableware to buy, you can find information about several products online from agencies like the ones mentioned above and various advocacy groups,
You can also contact the manufacturer and request information, including lead testing results that have been completed on their products.
If they don’t provide any information, they probably have something to hide and you should steer clear of their dishes.
When purchasing handcrafted tableware, ask questions about the product, including the pottery or ceramic material used and if the paint and glaze are lead-free.
You may also want to look for the Prop 65 label, which restricts lead use to just a fraction of what the FDA allows.
How to Reduce Exposure to Lead from Your Dishes
The best way to reduce your exposure to lead is to stop using any products that contain it. If you aren’t sure, throw it away and buy new.
Here are a few other tips to avoid lead leaching into your food:
- Don’t use heat on contaminated tableware – it speeds up the leaching process.
- Don’t put acidic food in contaminated tableware – acid also speeds up the leaching process.
- Don’t store food in contaminated products.
- Don’t use the dishwasher on dishes containing lead.
- Don’t use items that are chipped or damaged.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to eat off vintage plates?
I would err on the side of caution with this one. There’s virtually no way to find out if your vintage tableware contains lead. However, if you have a whole set and are willing to sacrifice one piece, you can choose one piece to have laboratory tested.
It will get ruined in the process, but if the test comes back clean, then you still have the rest of the vintage set to enjoy.
Otherwise, I would retire vintage dishes to decoration use only, if anything.
Does stoneware contain lead?
Most stoneware uses glaze, which is notorious for containing small amounts of lead or cadmium. If you want to buy stoneware, be sure to speak with the maker beforehand about what materials were used.
Does porcelain contain lead?
Like stoneware, porcelain almost always utilizes a glaze, which is usually tainted with lead. So yes, porcelain dishes often contain lead – albeit within FDA-regulated limits.
Does Corelle have lead in it?
According to Corelle’s website, any decorations on their stoneware are made with low-lead enamels. Notice, they don’t say “lead free.” So yes, at least some of Corelle’s dishes contain lead.
However, they state that their products are baked at temps well over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, which they claim “binds” heavy metals and decreases the amount they leach.
Is glass dinnerware lead-free?
When it comes to glass dishes, plain and clear are the safest options. Most lead is found in the coloring or decorations on a dish, so avoid that and you should be good to go.
Does all crystal contain lead?
If it’s lead crystal, then yes. Lead crystal is commonly found in more elegant items like decanters or wine glasses. Because the lead is actually infused into the glass, this form of “fine china” is particularly dangerous. In fact, a single piece of lead crystal can consist of 10-24% lead.
Do Pioneer Woman dishes have lead?
Tamara Rubin, an environmental activist, has tested Pioneer Woman tableware with an instrument called an “X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer,” which is what the CPSC uses in their testing. She found that they contained up to 744 ppm of lead and up to 378 ppm of cadmium.
To put that in perspective, an item marketed for use by children is considered toxic if its lead levels are 90 ppm or higher.
I hope this guide helps you easily identify potential lead in your plates, bowls, wine glasses, and tea sets!
If you have any questions, let me know!
And if you’re interested in learning about some safer options in the kitchen, check out these guides:
Plus, learn how to detox your entire kitchen in a few simple steps!