Friday, February 23, 2018

TABLEWARE - what not to use and why

Are you wondering what tableware is doing on a healthy living blog?

It's been proven that many dishes contain heavy metals (lead, cadmium, etc...), those metals can leach into your food, and long-term ingestion can make you very sick. It can cause permanent irreversible brain damage in children.

California Proposition 65 (1986) is often cited as the benchmark by which all manufacturers base their lead-free claims.  This law limits the lead content in most products but critics say it doesn't go far enough because there is no safe level of lead.  When buying tableware, many manufacturers will claim their products 'meet Prop 65' standards; but, like everything else where manufacturer's profits are concerned, there are scofflaws.

William's Sonoma claims to test everything they sell.

In most cases, it's either the glaze or the decoration that contains the heavy metal, and red is the color most likely to be contaminated. Gold and silver also have high lead content (it's used to get the metal to adhere to the china/glass).

Lead glazes are stronger than lead-free glazes, and are typically used on soft paste low-heat-fired ceramics to make them more durable.  Vintage Fiestaware is notorious for contamination.

High-heat-fired porcelain like Apilco and Pillivuyt does not require a lead glaze to be durable.  Apilco and Pillivuyt are made in France.  They're expensive, but the set I bought over 30 years ago still looks new, and only one piece has chipped.

Hall, made in the USA, used to be high-heat-fired but they were purchased in 2010 by Homer Laughlin (they make Fiestaware) and I don't know if they're still safe.  Perhaps they are....

Some varieties of Corelle are lead free but I have heard that, if it breaks, it shatters into thousands of razor sharp shards.   I wouldn't use it.

I also would by wary of any tableware made in China.

Acidic foods, microwaving, and dishwashers increase leaching.


Clear glass is likely to be lead-free UNLESS IT'S FLINT GLASS OR LEAD CRYSTAL, both of which DO contain lead, and the lead DOES leach, in some cases within 20 minutes.

Several lead crystal manufacturers suggest a 50/50 vinegar and water solution to soak in the decanter for 24 hours before using it.  The acidic vinegar can help leach out much of the lead that would otherwise enter your wine or liquor.

DO NOT STORE WINE OR WHISKEY in a lead crystal decanter.  You can pour it in right before serving but, if it's not consumed during that meal, pour it back into the original bottle.

Soda-lime glass and borosilicate glass don't contain lead but both contain aluminum and studies have proven that small amounts do leach out.  Exterior decorations, like the red markings on Pyrex measuring pitchers, do contain lead.  If you touch them and then touch your lips you're ingesting it.

Metals are used to create most colored glass.  If the color is ON the glass (flashed glass) please avoid it.  If the color is IN the glass, in some cases it's OK:  red color is made using gold, and pink is made using selenium.  Both of these are beneficial metals.  Yellow is made with uranium, milk/opal glass is made with arsenic, and blue is made with cobalt..  Green colors occur naturally and require magnesium to remove.

If the glass or china is scratched, it's leaching.  
Most vintage/antique tableware contains lead and it's leaching.    

If you aren't sure, you can have it tested.  
The two sets I had tested were astronomically high.  I got rid of them.

BOTTOM LINE FOR US:  We DO USE our lead crystal glasses and vintage fine china for special occasions.  We are healthy, and for those few times a year, we don't worry about it.  Ours has always been hand washed and is not chipped or scratched. For everyday, we use Apilco.  If our health was compromised, I'd find something else for special occasions.

So, if you love tableware, as I do,

how do you set I nice AND healthy table?

Let me show you....

It has been proven that food which looks good is perceived as tasting better than food which doesn't.  If food tastes better, it's more likely to be eaten (and healthy food needs all the help it can get!)

I LOVE the way a nicely set table looks.  It makes me take more care when I'm eating, and I enjoy the food more.  I understand that some (most?) people don't notice, and might even resent having to be careful when eating on a tablecloth.  If you're one of those people, just skip the rest of this post!

I have been collecting tableware since I was 16 and have several sets of dishes, both formal and casual.  Most of it has rarely been used and is scratch-free.  While I do sometimes like a table set with only one pattern, I prefer to mix and match them.  And, recently, when I'm serving friends with a compromised immune system who are happier eating on glass, I mix china with glass, and I LOVE the way it looks.

Here are the last two tables I set.

ART DECO BRUNCH, to illustrate etiquette principles.

I gave this 'lesson' to my friend's children to help them if they ever found themselves dining with the Queen of England or some other high-muckety-muck who might offer them a job, which is actually more likely than a visit with the Queen since one of them is studying to be an engineer and may end up working for the government.  If you don't already know, diplomatic protocol is so complex there are books written on it.

In the table setting above, the black and white chargers and the salad plates are Mikasa stoneware that I'm not sure are lead free.  I love the pattern so I intersperse them with glass.

The green luncheon plates are by Love and are 'safe' because the color is on the underside!  The topside, the side you eat on, is clear glass.  I love the pop of color these give to the table.

On top of the striped salad plate is a pressed glass cream soup bowl and underplate with a stripe design that coordinates with the black and white plates.   If you look closely, you can see the stripes.

When the soup course was removed, the salad course arrived on another glass plate, this one with an etched stripe pattern.

In the photo above, you can see that all the glasses are clear but have a black foot that ties them into the black-white theme.  The smallest glass, on the silver coaster, was filled with sherry to be poured into the soup (vichyssoise).  The coaster contains any drips and protects the tablecloth.  The largest glass is for water, and the champagne glass held a sparking rose when the main course was served.

The main course was served on the glass plates with the green underside.  The bread was served on the Mikasa bread plate because there was no liquid to release contaminants, if there are any, from the plate.

The small glass tea cups (in the first picture above) were used to serve tea with the dessert after the meal.  I don't have a photo.

The flatware is four different art deco-ish silverplate patterns that worked well together.


We had 9 people: 1 celiac, 1 shellfish allergy, 2 ketogenic diet, 1 onion-garlic aversion, 1 mushroom aversion, 1 turkey-ham aversion.

We served three entrees, four gravies, and seven sides.

The china underplate is Lenox Eternal with a gold border.  I'm pretty sure the center of the plate is safe but I didn't want my guests to worry so I used amber glass luncheon plates on top of them and I think the table looked better with the amber than without it.

The large wine glasses have gold leaf INSIDE the glass!  They were made by  Tony Davlin and are no longer available but I'm sure you can find other, similar, glasses.

The 'champagne coupes' are martini glasses by Bombay Gin.  I bought them because I love the turquoise ball at the base of the bowl.  It adds color without compromising the liquid.  They say "Bombay" on the foot but it was hardly visible on top of the placemat. 

The antique red wine glasses have gold on the outside but it's far enough from the lip that, if you're careful, you can avoid it.  You could use these with a straw, if you wanted, or fill them with flowers and use them as decor.

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