If you Google "kids' dishware" you'll find the cutest selection of non-breakable plates and bowls—the majority of which are made from melamine. Ditto for outdoor or picnic dishware.
But a new report in the journal JAMA finds that eating hot food from melamine dishware can expose kids and adults to large amounts of melamine.
Long-term low-level intake of melamine has been linked to kidney stones in both children and adults; and in 2008, melamine-tainted baby formula (causing an especially high dose) was linked to six deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations related to kidney stones and kidney disease in China.
In the current study, Dr. Chia-Fang Wu, of Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan, conducted a study that measured melamine levels of urine in a dozen men and women who consumed noodle soup.
Half of the participants in the study ate a two-cup serving of hot noodle soup from melamine bowls and the other half consumed soup from ceramic bowls. Urine samples were collected before the meal, and every two hours for 12 hours following the meal.
Three weeks later, enough time for the melamine to clear their system, the assigned treatments were reversed. The total melamine excretion in urine for 12 hours was 8.35 micrograms per liter after consuming soup from a melamine bowl, compared to only 1.31 micrograms after sipping soup from ceramic bowls.
"Melamine tableware may release large amounts of melamine when used to serve high-temperature foods," the authors concluded.
Melamine is also used for the manufacture of laminates, plastics, coatings, commercial filters, glues and adhesives. It is excreted relatively quickly from the body.
The amount of melamine released into food and beverages from melamine tableware varies by brand, so the results of this study of one brand may not be generalized to other.
At this point, the significance of this level of melamine in the urine has not been established. But, the authors write, "the consequences of long-term melamine exposure still should be of concern."
To play it safe, serve hot food, soup and drinks in ceramic or glass dishware.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She has authored several health books, including "Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility." Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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