Melamine may not sound like a familiar term for you, but I can almost guarantee you have likely eaten off a melamine product quite a few times throughout your life, most likely within the last week even. Although it is FDA approved and not considered a public health concern, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best thing to put in your body. Chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol are all legal, but that doesn’t mean they are the best options for our health and safety. Now, let’s get into some science so we can all understand what the heck melamine is, what the effects are of using it and what our best alternatives are!
What is Melamine?
Melamine (melamine-formaldehyde resin) is a nitrogen-based chemical compound used by many manufacturers globally to create a variety of products like plastics, adhesives and industrial coatings. It is a byproduct of the coal industry. This binding agent is a manufacturer’s dream because it helps their products avoid constantly breaking like fancy china might- especially helpful if you live in a house with a lot of boys. Melamine is an incredibly versatile compound, you may find melamine plates, tableware, cups, utensils, bowls, ramekins, or even chopsticks!
Melamine forms molecular structures that mold, when heat activated, to adapt to the shape of the tableware. Here’s the catch with that- due to the chemical reaction this causes, small amounts of melamine are left in the product they are making. This left-over melamine, in time, migrates out of the plastic and onto the food or drink it comes into contact with.
Here’s the big kicker with melamine- although it may barely be FDA approved, it does not fall under the environmentally-friendly category. It should not be thrown in your recycling bin because it cannot be melted for recycling like other plastics. Many products like bamboo say they are fully biodegradable, but may contain 40% melamine and do not break down as they should in the environment. Many products claim they are biodegradable, compostable, or should be recycled but they do not get broken down properly. It’s important to do some research and figure out what happens to your trash, recycling or compost after it gets picked up. Check out your local recycling, compost or trash center to learn more about how to best dispose of specific products you use!
What products contain melamine?
Alright so now we know what melamine is, how are we supposed to know if our products have melamine? It is used for such a wide variety of manufacturing needs. I guarantee you many of the products you already use or have used contain melamine. It can be incorporated in products anywhere from whiteboard wall paneling to formica countertops to the plates you use to eat your meals! Just writing that out made me think “maybe I shouldn’t use a product that is used on to create white board panelling to eat my home cooked meals on?”
Unfortunately, melamine came to the forefront of conversation because of concerns with manufacturers in China adulterating their milk illegally with melamine. Since melamine is so high in nitrogen, tests will interpret this nitrogen content as protein leaving some sketchy manufacturer adding melamine to improve their protein content. This is just one company that was brought to the forefront and caught. My rule of thumb is the more natural and pure a product is, the less margin there is for toxins and chemicals to be present. Here are some of the most common products that may contain melamine:
There are various ways to tell if melamine is being used in your products. The first one may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised at how many people might miss this- check the ingredient list for “food-grade melamine binder” or anything with the word melamine in it. The second is if your dish is brightly colored, it is likely melamine was used in the production process.
Can the melamine from these products get into foods and drinks? What problems can melamine cause if people eat or drink food contaminated with it?
Although it is not considered toxic in most products, there are still quite a few health concerns you should be aware of. Melamine isn’t considered a concern to human health until it reaches a certain level. It wasn’t until 2008 that the FDA began an official investigation into the safety and health concerns of melamine in tableware. This began because there were 52,857 cases of nephrolithiasis (kidney stones) reported in China linked to the consumption of melamine. Manufacturers were illegally adding melamine to infant milk formulas to increase protein content. There were about “13,000 hospitilizatoins, and at least 3 deaths confirmed to date” (Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government). The investigation and studies proved that this Chinese-produced powdered infant formula contained trace amounts of melamine toxic to infants. Melamine has been detected in various other product categories like beverages and confections. This just proves how important it is to know what is in your products and make informed purchasing decisions!
Although the FDA didn’t rule melamine as a public health concern, any products with melamine contamination above the rates noted in the FDA’s risk assessment may put people’s health at risk- these risks include kidney stones, kidney failure or possible death. The Interim Safety and Risk Assessment of Melamine and Its Analogues in Food for Humans “estimated that if 50 percent of the diet were contaminated at a level of 2.5 ppm of melamine and its analogues, a person's daily intake would equal 0.063 mg/kg bw/d —a level 10-fold below the TDI. Therefore, FDA concludes that levels of melamine and melamine-related compounds below 2.5 ppm do not raise public health concerns in food other than infant formula.” This does not mean, however, that it is a safe product- this is just the limitations it has before it is harmful.
If I were to microwave my food on a melamine plate, the exposure and risk significantly increases and I am then exposing myself to toxic chemicals. Plastic and bamboo tableware will specify that they are not microwave-safe - meaning you should never heat food or drinks on it. If you’re like me and not the best at listening to rules- no, you can’t microwave them because they will blow up or anything like that, it is because you will be exposing yourself and putting your own health into harm’s way! Eating more acidic foods (like oranges) on these plates also increases your exposure risk. You should only use ceramic or other microwave-safe specific cookware when heating food, such as Élay Prouct’s disposable, toxin-free Palm Leaf tableware!
Another large concern regarding melamine is that doctors don’t fully know all the effects of chronic melamine exposure, a lot of the current research comes from animal studies. If you have been exposed to large intakes of melamine, see below for signs for melamine poisoning:
What are other toxins present in disposable tableware?
I would have never guessed on my own that bamboo was a product that uses melamine as a binding agent. Well, that’s mostly because before this year I didn't even know what melamine is. So what other toxins and chemicals are hiding in my tableware? Here are a list of your other uninvited dinner guests:
So what is the best alternative?
Great question! It’s us- Èlay Products! Just because melamine has not yet been phased out of the industry, does not mean we should continue to buy and use these products- we deserve better! We offer an alternative tableware option to keep your family, pets and yourself safe!
Élay Products offers non-toxic, zero-chemical, 100% biodegradable tableware! Too good to be true? Nope, it’s true and I’m here to show you just how amazing Elay’s tableware is and why it is the safest and most efficient disposable option. Many people use melamine in their tableware because it is such a strong binding agent and avoids tableware breaking. Élay’s tableware is insanely durable and 100% natural. Children in India will actually use the leaf sheaths, what we use to create our products, as sleds! So yes, it can hold that heavy plate of food for you. Élay’s dinnerware is durable, strong and flexible! Most manufacturers and customers love the low replacement rate that comes with using melamine products, but now they have an even better option!
Another reason our palm leaf tableware is your best option- you can microwave or freeze Élay’s tableware! Most plastic, bamboo or paper disposables can not be heated because it releases toxins we talked about before onto your food! Gross- nobody wants that! With Élay, you can take your leftover dish in your to-go container out of the refrigerator and place it right in the microwave without having a worry in the world!
Lastly, Élay’s products are pet and human safe! Melamine in pet food has unfortunately been the cause of death for hundreds of cats and dogs in the USA. Many companies, unfortunately, put this nitrogen-rich compound in its products to make it appear they have more protein than they do. If we can do anything at all at Élay that has an impact, I hope we can at least inform our community of these toxins. Be safe when purchasing disposable tableware, remember the impact these toxins may have on your health and the environment and choose Élay Products!
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