Caution Decorative Dishes

For years lead has been an ingredient in the glaze, or coating, on ceramic bowls, dishes, and pitchers. With proper firing, or heating in a kiln, glazes with lead are safe. However, when dishes are fired incorrectly or when copper is added to the glaze, hazardous amounts of lead can leach from dishes into food. Lead is harmful to health, collecting in bones and some soft tissues. Among other problems, lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, organ damage, and even death. Children and pregnant women are particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of lead. Check chapter 16.

To be sure your dishes are safe enough for food, follow these guidelines:

  • Inspect the surface of ceramic dishes. The surface that contacts food should be smooth and shiny, not rough or painted on top of the glaze.
  • Check both sides of dishes, bowls, and pitchers. If it says "Not for Food Use" or "For Decorative Purposes Only," don't use it for food!
  • Don't store food in ceramic dishes or leaded crystal. Lead can leach out when acidic foods and beverages such as coffee, juice, fruit, or wine come in contact with glaze or leaded crystal over time.
  • Beware of ceramicware made by untrained potters. For the most part, today's hobbyists are well aware of the problems of lead glazes.
  • Beware of ceramicware brought back from foreign travel and of older dishes, imported before government monitoring.
  • To check your own dishes, purchase a lead-test kit. Find one at hardware or hobby stores.
  • Refrigerate or freeze whole-grain foods since they tend to get rancid faster than refined grains.
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