Researchers in Hong Kong have concluded that samples of melamine tableware studied in tests are safe for normal food use.
Melamine, when combined with formaldehyde, is used to make a range of food-contact products including plates and dishes, mugs and kitchen tools. But melamine is toxic and, if ingested in quantity, it can damage the bladder or kidneys.
However, scientists from Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety found only small levels of migration of melamine and formaldehyde from the tableware they tested, saying they were all well below the limits specified by the European Union – “even under experimental conditions that simulated the worse-case scenario”.
The researchers, who studied 61 samples of melamine-ware used in local food outlets, also said there was little difference in the migration between the various brands of melamine-ware.
The CFS concluded that the samples tested would not pose a risk to health under normal use.
However, it advised that people should not use melamine-ware with a broken or damaged surface, should not heat or cook foods in it or use it in a microwave or conventional oven, should cool very hot foods before putting them into melamine-ware, and should avoid using abrasive cleaning detergents and tools that could damage the surface of the items.
It also said that melamine products should only be obtained from reputable suppliers.
Melamine has gained notoriety for its use by some unscrupulous businesses as an additive to foods, which gives the appearance of a higher protein content. Its use has been identified in pet foods and livestock feed, but the most high-profile case arose in China two years ago.
Milk contaminated with melamine caused 300,000 people to become ill. Particularly badly affected were babies, six of whom died.
China is the world’s largest exporter of melamine.