Friday, November 6, 2009

Dinnerware Dilemma, Part 3: A not-so appetizing experience

I few weeks ago, I wrote that I was looking for a new set of dinnerware. As I started my search I was shocked to learn that some of the dishes I found online contained dangerous chemicals such as lead, cadmium and uranium. It's seriously scary to think that all this time my family has been eating off of potentially unsafe dishes. I've been doing alot of research on the matter looking into ways to spot unsafe and poor quality dishware, possible brands to avoid, and trying to find safe lead-free alternatives that are also affordable.

Here's what I've learned so far:

• Be wary of dishes, bowls or coffee mugs that shows visible signs of wear to the interiors. This is a sign of poor workmanship and low-quality materials. Lead paints, dyes or glazes may have been used in their construction.

• Beware of dishes that heat up excessively when microwaved. I read several places where the lead content will cause this to happen.

• If your dinnerware was made in China there's a good chance that you've got an unhealthy item living in your cabinets. I found several resources that mentioned the lax standards for manufacturing in China. I also found the following consumer suggestion list:
1) Purchase dinnerware made in the US, our standards for lead contaminants for dinnerware manufacturing are very strict.
2) Purchase dinnerware made in the EU, who's standards are even higher than the US.
3) Beware of any dinnerware made elsewhere, especially China, where standards are lax.

• Clear glassware is the safest purchase. Though I found many resources that stated tinted or colored glassware is also suspect because of lead-based dyes. While there are several lead-free options that are quite attractive, the prices for these products are very high.

• I found a great deal of contradictory information on specific manufacturers. For instance on the Homer Laughlin website they tout lead-free dinnerware. But then I found several articles where people have tested their HL dishes and found them to contain lead. I also read where someone tested their Pfaltzgraff dishes and found them to contain lead even though they called the company before they purchased and were told they did not contain lead.

It seems that we consumers are pretty much on our own with this. Everywhere I look, I find confused consumers searching for safe options and angry consumers who thought they were buying something safe and found out differently when they tested it themselves. If you want to know if your dishes contain lead, you have to test them yourself. This seems ridiculous to me. From what I've read so far, the standards for companies that produce dishware here in the US are much more strict than the standards for imported dishware. This puts our own manufacturers at a serious disadvantage when it comes to competitive pricing. Our government should have higher standards to rule out the import and sale of unsafe products. This would level the playing field for our own manufacturers and also provide American consumers with much safer products. It's unsettling to think that we can walk into any retail store and know that the shelves are filled with unsafe options whether it be dinnerware, toys, etc.

All of this is proving to be more of a challenge than I expected. I am finding brands that say they are lead-free...but are they really? And why are the brands that really are lead-free, eco-friendly and recycled so expensive? Why should we have to pay a premium for simply choosing a safe, healthy product over an unsafe, unhealthy one? If the current trend is to go green, shouldn't we make eco-friendly, recycled products more affordable to the average consumer? It seems counter-productive to set pricing higher for these items, making it harder for people to make greener choices. Well, the challenge is set, I'm off to find a brand that puts their money where our mouth is: a company that sells safe dinnerware products that are also affordable. Stay tuned...


  1. After reading your post I am sure most of my dishes are not safe. I will definitely be more careful next time I shop. Thanks for all your investigative work. I really look forward to seeing what you finally choose. Good luck!

  2. so whawt did you find ? I'm in the same dilemma and indeed it's overwhelming!!! let alone the environmental defense fund has taken that list off their site... !

  3. Thanks for your question. I wish I had a solid answer but unfortunately some things have happened in my life since this post that have caused dinnerware to slide way down on my priority list. I will tell you I found 2 teacups at Ross that say "Optimum LEAD FREE Home Plate by Woodbury" on the bottom that state they are oven/microwave/dishwasher safe, made in Japan. But I've searched the internet and am unable to find any mention of this brand. Frustrating. The majority of what I've found on the subject of lead free dinnerware is that your safest bet is an American-made brand. Good luck in your search, I hope you'll come back and share your findings.

  4. I just ready the Jan. 16, 2010 10:53am text from Leslie Doughty and I'm also looking for this dinnerware. Someone gave me a set of the yellow bowls and I absolutely love them. I want to get the whole set but can't find them. Does anyone have any further info on the Optimum LEAD FREE Home Plate by Woodbury?

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