How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (2023)

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Have you looked suspiciously at grandma's old cutlery and wondered how you can tell if it has lead in it?

Then you are exactly right with us.

See, lead poisoning is no joke; it can sometimes be fatal and children are particularly at risk.

Between 1999 and 2000, 434,000 children in the United States alone had elevated blood lead levels.

And the perpetrator? Old colorful cutlery.

However, lead in dishes does not always pose a risk to your health.

onlychoosedishes withaffimTrains...

In this article, you'll learn how to tell if your dishes contain lead, how to test for lead, and how to avoid exposure.

hurry up? Click any section in the list below to jump directly there.

Let's take a closer look!

jump to a section

Why is lead in cutlery?

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (1)

Cutlery containing lead may seem strange, but here's why lead is found in cutlery...

The journey of ceramics begins with porous clay.

This allows the glaze to coat the pottery, sealing it and helping to transport food and liquids.

Lead helps fuse the glaze with the clay, creating a more durable, smooth, and non-porous surface.

In addition, lead compounds produce intense colors such as red, orange, and yellow.

Now you might be thinking, "This is amazing!"

I mean lead is dangerous stuff!

Excellent,That's how Mike Cashtock, FDA consumer safety officer, explains it……

"Lead-glazed stoneware is safe when properly made and bonded in the glaze, but...

The problem is that the pottery is not baked at an appropriate or controlled temperature. In this case, the lead is not fully bound and ends up in the food. "

While the FDA now strictly follows lead standards (we'll talk about that later), outliers go unnoticed...

For example, some factories in China are not FDA certified. However, unregulated lead glazes appear on crockery.

So the next part is crucial.

How to tell if dishes contain lead

You don't know if a dish is visible to the naked eye.

However, there are some warning signs to look out for.

Here's a chart to help you identify dishes that contain lead.Then we check the details.

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (2)

  • mature soiland other lead-glazed pottery from the Southwest, such as Mexican bean pots. Low temperature baking will not seal the jar.
  • handmade cutleryHas an irregular shape and appearance.
  • decorative traditional potteryUsed in some Asian communities. Old-fashioned dishes contain lead, especially dishes prepared before 1971—more on that later.
  • Porcelain dishes and bowls may contain lead if:The decoration is done on the glaze and not under it(If you feel the garnish when you rub your finger across the plate). Or if you notice brush strokes over the glaze.
  • The risk of lead increases as the trim wears awaydramatic.
  • antique crockeryFrom relatives, thrift stores, flea markets or flea markets. Especially if the piece is old or the manufacturer is foreign.
  • Dishescorroded, worn glass(Or gray residue on towels after washing).
  • Lead and cadmium are common in tablewareLuminous pattern in red, orange and yellow(unless you are sure the maker used lead-free glaze).

How to cause lead poisoning from tableware

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (3)

There are several causes of lead poisoning.

You could inhale lead dust from old peeling paint or drink water from old lead pipes.

Or, as this article suggests, from lead in cutlery.

However, the amount of lead leached depends on several factors, including:

  • Thekey contentin the plate
  • TheGlasArt
  • What type of food or liquid is on the plate (example coming soon)
  • How much timeGrocery money spent on dishes
  • Alter Vegetables(Older, worn glazes are more prone to leaching)
  • Heating and cleaning habits(Use microwave or dishwasher)
  • GlasurrisseOr "glaze cracks" (if your plate is full of cracks). Cracked wood is risky as cracks are more likely to leach. These crevices also harbor bacteria.

In the worst case, you ingest lead and get poisoned.

What you can expect...

What lead poisoning can do to your body

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (4)

Here's what happens when you ingest lead...

First, lead enters your bloodstream.

It then goes to your brain, liver, kidneys, and bones.

From there, lead accumulates in your bones and teeth.

Thereafter, lead levels in these areas gradually increased with continued exposure.

Prolonged exposure can cause permanent brain damage and even death at high levels.

Well, primarilyThere is no safe level of lead in your blood.

But levels around 5-10 micrograms can cause symptoms.

TogetherSymptoms of lead poisoningexistAdultcontain…

  • Headache
  • Joint, muscle and abdominal pain
  • hypertension
  • Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
  • mood swings

those who are most at risk

Pregnant women and young children are most affected by lead poisoning.

Children absorb 4-5 times more lead than adults. As a result, the child's brain and nervous system develop poorly.

When a woman becomes pregnant, the fetus can absorb lead, which can lead to miscarriage and developmental disabilities.

Otherseffects of lead poisoningKinderThe lower levels include...

  • decreased intelligence and concentration
  • increased antisocial behavior
  • Anämie
  • hypertension
  • liver problems

When lead levels are high...

  • behavioral disorder
  • low IQ
  • Come
  • pull out
  • die

weird stuff.

So you'll know how to tell if your dishes contain lead, how it gets into your body and the effects it can have on your health...

Here are some simple steps to avoid lead exposure in your dishes.

How to prevent lead exposure in dishes

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (5)

  • Do not heat food or liquidsin lead dishes(Boiling or microwaving will speed up the leaching process).
  • Do not store food or liquidsIn lead glazed bowls (no more than a day old).
  • Do not store acidic foodsCeramic dishes containing lead (acidic foods absorb lead from dishes more quickly). Examples include citrus fruits, apples, pasta sauce, soy sauce, salad dressing, fruit juice, soft drinks, alcohol, and coffee.
  • Avoid the dishwasher(This can damage the surface and lead to more leaching the next time you use the bowl). You will also contaminate other dishes in the dishwasher.
  • Question unregulated cutleryBefore 1971.
  • questions:If possible, contact the store or company that sells the cutlery. If the dish is compliant, ask the seller or customer service (more on allowable lead levels coming soon).

As with anything, it's best to use your judgment.

If you have any doubts about this dish, do not eat it.

If you know your antique cutlery contains lead, please don't tell...

Place today's spaghetti sauce in the fridge overnight before reheating it in the microwave tomorrow.

Reserve plates for garnish instead.

How to test lead in dishes

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (6)

While the above tips are a good place to start, the only way to find out if your cutlery contains lead is to have it tested. There are several ways to test ceramics for lead - your two main options are...

  1. Test ceramic surfaces with a home lead test kit or...
  2. Send the petri dish to the lab (it's best to test for lead leakage from the porcelain).

1. Harness Wire Test Kit (DIY)

Blei-TestkitAllow anyone to test ceramics for lead at home.

These cheap, chemically treated swabs work much like a home pregnancy test (hence my cheesy diagram above).

The lead tester reacts with the leachable lead and turns bright red when wiping the dishes.

The instructions are very simple.

However, for greater accuracy, you should use the indented part of the glaze.

Alternatively, you can (carefully) peel off the glaze with a knife - this way all the color is accessible.

Here's the swab test failure...

They don't show the exact content of the lead, just a simple yes/no answer.

Therefore, the method below will help you better assess your risk level by providing specific details.

2. Laboratory Tests

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (8)

The laboratory puts at your disposalThe most accurate and reliable electrode test available.

Laboratories can use it to determine whether ceramics are food safe and FDA complianttwo main methods:

X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy

XRF is an x-ray gun for cutlery.

The device identifies lead by measuring electronic reactions in the material. Lead molecules deliver unique signals.

XRF testing accurately measures lead levels without damaging your dishes.

But there are tradeoffs.

RFA was unable to determine how much lead was leached from the bowl. There is only lead.

leaching test

In a leaching test, the lab fills your petri dish with an acidic solution.

These tests determine how much lead, if any, has been leached from the glaze.

demise? This test will (probably) ruin your plate.

where to find a lab

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a nationwide list of accredited lead testing sites.

This way you can find the nearest laboratory and test your dishes.

Access:Listed in the National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program (NLLAP).

Are there laws against lead in cutlery?

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (9)

Yes, that's what I meant when I said 1971 earlier.

The FDA now limits lead in cutlery– Before 1971, however, this was not the case.

Therefore, as mentioned earlier, it is crucial to challenge the old-fashioned plates.

Now the FDA no longer requires tableware to be 100% lead-free.

But at least it's lead-safe.

in other words,Leachable amount of leadDo not exceed 3 parts per million for plates and 2 parts per million for small bowls.

If the dish exceeds this amount, the labeling must be visible.

Search for one of the following tags:

  • "decorative"
  • "For decoration purposes only"
  • "Not available for dining"
  • "Can poison food"
  • "Glaze Contains Lead"
  • "Food consumption can cause lead poisoning"
  • "Not suitable for use in food - food consumed from this container may be harmful."

Additionally, the state of California enacted lead-ware regulations in 1986, known as Proposition 65.

This law is stricter than that of the FDA, with a leaching limit of 0.226 parts per million.

To determine if this rule applies to your crockery, please scan the label below...

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (10)

The difference between lead-free tableware and lead-free tableware

You will notice these two phrases on products everywhere. So let's avoid any confusion.

lead-freiMeans your dishes are lead free.

and lead to –secureIndicates the product contains lead but no leaching has occurred, or...

The amount of leaching is within the specified range.

The safest lead-free tableware

How to Tell if a Food Contains Lead (Actionable Guide) (11)

After reading all of the above, you may be wondering...

"It all sounds great, but what is the safest lead-free cutlery?!"

That is the answer.

The key to choosing lead-free tableware is to minimize decoration or color.

The more color and decoration the dish has, the more likely it is to contain lead.

That doesn't mean all colored dinner plates contain lead, but...

The safest thing to do is to get the simple stuff!

I know yawn.

But think about it: don't let the utensils decorate your table, let your food speak for itself!

Also, the glass usually does not contain lead (just make sure it is not lead crystal).

Another tip: buy new ones.

Old silverware (even plain white) from eBay or thrift stores often contains lead.

So take a look at our review of lead-free cutlery brands in our post –"Use the safest utensils at home!"

We dive deep into the world of Libbey, Anchor Hocking, Fiestaware and other lead-free plates!

frequently asked Questions

Does the old fashioned Corning have lead?

Corning tableware made before the mid-2000s contained lead in glazes and trim. However,Corning recently tested these sheetssure and found that this was not the caseleachinglead. However, they're okay if the glaze is damaged. So if you own vintage Corelle tableware from before the mid-2000s, you should keep it for decoration (unless it's in good condition).

Does new Pyrex contain lead?

No, but older Pyrex contains lead, especially in colored and decorative parts. However, the new Pyrex is made from lead- and cadmium-free soda-lime glass. Even when lead is present, it is well below the regulated leachable limit and is not harmful.

Does Fiestaware contain lead?

Habit. Fiestaware tableware has been lead-free since 1986. However, vintage Fiestaware cutlery from before 1986 contains lead. The EPA does not recommend eating Old Fashioned Fiestaware.

Is glazed pottery safe?

Manufacturers used lead glaze to seal stoneware. When fired at high temperatures in the kiln, ceramic ware is food safe and will not leach lead. However, lead can get into food if it is not properly lit.

Does clay contain lead?

Terracotta glazes contain lead, which seals the clay and provides vivid colors. When properly cured, the lead is trapped within the glass and cannot escape. Lead can freely get into food if it is not properly baked.

Does bone china contain lead?

Bone china does not contain lead or cadmium. Instead, it is a type of porcelain made from ash, feldspar material and kaolin. This makes bone china one of the strongest and safest tableware materials.

Are lead crystals safe?

The lead content in lead crystal glass is up to 24%, meaning food and liquids can be exposed to lead. However, lead crystals can still be handled safely. The FDA recommends the following: Do not use lead crystals daily. Do not use lead glasses around children. And don't store food in crystals for more than a week or two.

Adam the hell

Author and TGL founder Adam has experience in product research and design. Over the years he has successfully designed, manufactured and sold eco-friendly and sustainable cookware in all fifty states. When he's not reading, cooking, or lifting weights, he's helping families upgrade their kitchen and dining room decor with relevant blog posts.

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