Should you be worried about lead in dinnerware?

Published 8:53 pm Friday, June 7, 2019


Personal Effects

Question: Jerry, what can you tell me about the lead in china? Should it be something that I need to be concerned with? I love this set of china but I worry about the lead. Thanks for taking the time to look at this.

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Answer: You know that we’ve talked about this regarding crystal, but never in pottery or porcelain glazes. Lead has been around in the earth since time in memorial, in our water and soil. In fact, the lead aqueducts that were so prized and regarded by the Romans actually caused many health problems, though they didn’t understand it at the time.

We know that lead is added to molten glass to increase its brilliance. Lead is, or was, added to glazes for pottery and porcelain to strengthen the glaze and to enhance colors. Needless to say, lead has been very tightly controlled, or eliminated, in just about all “modern” dinnerwares. These you don’t have to worry about too much.

It’s antiques, handmade pieces and imports from foreign countries that you need to watch out for.

Your dinnerware is modern, and was made by the J.& G. Meakin company. The pattern is Cathy, which is an old 14th century name for China, the country that is, hence its oriental flair. It is very striking.

People get all up in arms over lead in dishware. You’ll be OK if you are cautious and think. Here are some general tips for you.

It’s generally thought that if you only use a piece occasionally, the effects are micro small. Now, if you eat off of the same plate day-in and day-out, for decades, then yes, you might have a problem. Avoid having foods that are highly acidic and come in contact with your antique dishware over long periods of time. You should never store food in antique or older pottery and porcelain pieces. If it’s a plate or platter that vexes you, then use a glass or thin plastic liner to actually hold the food. I’d be careful of pieces that are brightly colored orange, red and yellow, as lead is often added to these glazes to brighten the colors.

Even from modern factories in Mexico, South America, China and India, I’d be very cautious. Always, pay attention when there is a label, sticker or back stamp that says “Not Safe For Food or Beverage.” Just take their word for it.

If at any time you have issues or concerns about the possibility of lead in diningware, then you need a kit. You can buy kits that test for lead in most larger hardware stores, and of course, on Amazon. These fairly inexpensive kits will allow you to test dozens and dozens of pieces of pottery and porcelain. That’s about all I can tell you about lead. If in doubt, just don’t use it.

Thanks for a great question.