Melamine Mania: Fun, Durable (and Safe?) Tableware

I love melamine tableware because it is free of BPA (Bisphenol A), is dishwasher-safe, and is virtually unbreakable. And it is so bright and cheery! Melamine, which had its heyday in the 1950s, has been popping up in kitchens everywhere in the form of plates, cups, trays and storage containers. But what exactly is melamine and are there any concerns about its safety?

The bright, patterned tableware we know and love is actually melamine resin, a polymer created from melamine and formaldehyde. Sounds unpalatable, I know. Indeed, if the chemical makes its way into our bodies it can cause kidney stones and renal failure. In 2007 and 2008, as reported in Time magazine, melamine was used with disastrous effect by "certain unscrupulous food companies as a cheap and abundant filler substance for products ranging from livestock feed to pet food...and baby formula." So, should we be concerned about eating food off of this material? Wasn't melamine supposed to be the safe alternative to plastics containing the dreaded BPA? I don't know about you but whenever I have concerns about product safety I turn to the public interest group with the most at stake: parents. Oh, and I check with the folks at the FDA.

According to the FDA, melamine from plastic tableware can get into foods and drinks in certain situations. When highly acidic foods are heated to extreme temperatures (160 ° F or higher), the amount of melamine that migrates out of the plastic can increase. This is why foods and drinks should not be microwaved using melamine-based dinnerware. The FDA's bottom line (for now) is reassuring: food and drink may be served on melamine-based tableware without risk to the consumer.

But what about the moms and dads? They remain understandably skeptical, with some mommy bloggers throwing their cute kiddy cups out with those nasty BPA-laced baby bottles. But the level-headed bloggers over at Babble's Parental Advisory column are sticking with melamine for the time being. "There are options with fewer unknowns, though they're not as convenient or cheap as the plastics we've come to depend on. Maybe the choices will improve as more questions come up in the future. But we expect we'll be keeping our melamine plates on the table until something better comes along. Or until our kids can be trusted not to throw the dishware."

1. Clockwise from top left: Plastica - $24; Bon Genre - $45 for four; Velocity - $48 for four; Rice; French Bull - $24.

2. Talavera plates, Pottery Barn- $24 for four.

3. Zak! Park bowls La Prima Kitchen - $21.24 for six.

4. Two-tone cup with mint daisy print. Rice.

5. Not Neutral snack sets from Design Public - $26.

6. Thomas Paul Portland plates, Curiosity Shoppe - $32 for 4.

7. Louis Foret, Bon Genre - $40 for four.

8. French Bull storage container set, Accent Furniture Direct - $28.80.

9. Roadside signs, SF MOMA - $40 for four.

10. John Derian for Target - $7.98 for 8. Amazon.com

Images: as linked above, Personalized plates from LA Plates