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Is Melamine Bad For You?



Short answer

Melamine is a popular plastic compound that has multiple industrial uses. Melamine is a form of cyanide and when mixed with compounds like formaldehyde produces a resin that can be used to manufacture plates, cups, flooring, tile, laminates for furniture, floors, cabinets etc. Melamine has a toxic threshold and the jury is still out about how much melamine can leach out of kitchenware and into your food.



Long answer

Melamine is a white crystalline powder that is a form of cyanide that is used widely in plastic products.  When melamine is mixed with formaldehyde (or similar compounds) the combination creates resins that are fire retardant, durable, lightweight and inexpensive.  Melamine became popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Melamine is very pliable and can be made in a wide array of colors. Melamine tableware included plates, cups, and bowls, serving dishes, serving utensils, mixing bowls, ramekins and chop sticks.  Because of its chemical makeup, there was concern about melamine leaching into food.  The FDA deems melamine safe for industrial use but did issue a statement regarding precautions with tableware. “When highly acidic foods are heated to extreme temperatures (160 ° F or higher), the amount of melamine that migrates out of the plastic can increase. Foods and drinks should not be heated on melamine-based dinnerware in microwave ovens.  Only ceramic or other cookware which specifies that the cookware is microwave-safe should be used. The food may then be served on melamine-based tableware.” The amount of melamine that leached into foods under these conditions is considered safe and well below the established level for toxicity.

The true concern and panic that surrounded melamine came in 2007 and 2008 when China was adding high amounts of melamine to infant formula and pet food which caused thousands of infant and pet illnesses and many fatalities. Melamine and its by-product caused crystal formation in the animal’s and infant’s kidneys. Many animals died from kidney failure. In the class action lawsuit against the US company that was distributing the melamine tainted product from China, 13,424 claims cited pet death while 9,001 claims stated that their pets became sick but survived.

In 2008, melamine was added to infant milk formula in China. Over 300,000 babies became ill and six babies died from the contaminated formula. Renal failure was the primary adverse effect, and the cause of death in the infants consuming fatal doses.

The US was ordering these products from China and had no insight into the addition of melamine to these products. This prompted the largest recall of baby formula and pet food in the history of the US and China. 

It was no accident that China was adding melamine to these products.  Because melamine is very high in nitrogen it was added to these products to give the appearance of higher levels of protein.  At that time, protein levels of products were determined by nitrogen content but melamine has no protein content-it was just fooling the testing process to make it seem that way.  Today there is testing available that is able to determine what the true protein content is in all protein containing products.

Some melamine kitchenware may contain BPA (Bisphenol-A) which is another safety concern. Many studies conducted suggest that children and infants are the most vulnerable to the effects of BPA.  Some of the health risks to both adults and children include the development of behavioral and neurological disorders.  Heart problems and diabetes are also a risk, as the chemical can lead to liver damage and insulin resistance.  Exposure to regular levels of BPA can affect cellular development, induce reproductive disorders, alter breast development, lead to breast cancer and may be linked to prostate cancer.

If you choose to use melamine cookware then request a BPA free brand, do not use in ovens or microwaves and avoid using it with acidic foods in conditions over 160 degrees F.  Would not let children eat off of melamine products. Other options for cookware would be glass, heavy metal free ceramic or stainless steel. 

Possible short-term side effects

  • if accidentally ingested in high doses-renal failure and possibly death

Commonly found in

  • plastics
  • dishware
  • cups, saucers, bowls
  • flooring
  • tile
  • laminates

Big is melamine bad for you.


  • keeps plastics durable, pliable, stronger and less expensive
  • health benefits-none

Optional cookware (what is this?)

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Written by Dr. Becky Maes | 03-22-2018

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
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