December 01, 2015

Handcrafted Dinnerware and Lead: Managing the Risk

So you’re thinking about finally making the move away from machine-manufactured dishes and plan on getting a great set of handcrafted dinnerware? Congratulations! You’ve joined millions of others around the world who have turned their back on those sterile factory products and chosen instead to enjoy the more traditional benefits associated with pottery of the sort used by most humans throughout history. As you do so, however, be sure that you choose your pottery carefully to ensure that you avoid any risk of overexpose to lead.


Now don’t misunderstand that. The fact is that most handcrafted dinnerware is made by artisans who are committed to using safe, lead-free glazes to ensure that their dishes are as safe to eat from as they are beautiful to look at. With that said, however, it would be foolish to overlook the fact that there are some potters for whom that is less of a concern. And while their wares may be every bit as attractive as the safer dishes, they are nonetheless not suitable for the dining table.


There’s a reason you don’t hear too much about this issue in the United States or Europe, as the governments in those parts of the world are extremely focused when it comes to regulating lead content and the types of materials that are considered safe for these dinnerware items. Recent studies, however, have identified two main areas of interest when it comes to pottery that contains unsafe levels of lead: Mexico and China. Some of the pottery imported from those countries has been found to have dangerously high levels of that toxin.


That might not seem like an issue if you’re just displaying those dishes on the wall, but if you plan on actually using them at the dinner table you might want to reconsider. According to the Food and Drug Administration, those dishes have an unacceptably high risk of contaminating food with toxic levels of lead. This can happen when you use them for cooking, storing, or serving your food and drinks.


The main issue appears to involve many family potters in Mexico, where they continue to use the same glazing techniques that their ancestors used. And though there has been some success in the effort to get those families to switch glazes, many continue to use the same lead-contaminated kilns. The Chinese problem with pottery is not as surprising. There have been numerous instances in recent decades where imported toys contained unsafe lead levels, so this has been an ongoing problem for that nation.


The important thing to remember is that it is not so much the glaze, as the method of firing that determines whether lead content is dangerous. When properly fired, a dish will be safe for use at the dining table even if it contains a lead-based glaze.


Consumers should always be wary when buying handcrafted dinnerware from unknown artisans, or at flea markets, swap meets, or garage sales. At the very least, they should avoid using those items for dining unless they can reasonably verify that it is safe to do so. Remember, you can only be absolutely sure about the quality of any handmade item when you’re buying items like those found in the Gaia Collection from reliable suppliers.