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Melamine is used to make a variety of hard plastic cups, plates, bowls, and utensils because they are dishwasher safe, inexpensive, and durable. If that word sounds familiar, it may be because melamine is also illegally added to protein products to game the system to make it appear that pet food has more protein than it does. By 2007, more than 1,000 potentially contaminated pet food products were recalled after it “was found to be a contaminant in wheat gluten used in those products”––but not before it caused disease and death in pets throughout North America.
“It is presumed that melamine was intentionally added by suppliers in China to falsely elevate the measured protein content and, hence, the monetary value of these products.” And the pet food scandal was just the writing on the wall. The next year, “melamine was discovered to be the cause of an outbreak of [kidney] stones and [kidney] failure” affecting hundreds of thousands of infants and young children throughout China, when melamine was used to falsify the protein content of infant formula and powdered milk.
In the U.S., you can find it in food packaging, and sneaking its way into animal feed, but those using melamine dishware can be exposed directly, migrating straight into the food upon exposure to heat. So yeah, cooking spoons and dishes made out of melamine are not suited for microwaves and cooking, according to food safety authorities. Okay, but what if you never cook with it, fry with it, or microwave it. What if you just use it to eat out of?
“A Crossover Study of Noodle Soup Consumption in Melamine Bowls” versus the same soup eaten out of ceramic bowls, and then just measure the amount of melamine flowing through their bodies. And they found that “melamine tableware may release large amounts of melamine when used to serve high-temperature foods,” and not even hot foods. “Melamine migration can be detectable from melamine tableware, even [at] low temperatures,” like just warm water. Why do we care? Because the level of melamine you’re exposed to “is signiﬁcantly associated with kidney function deterioration in patients with early-stage chronic kidney disease,” in which even relatively “low melamine levels may cause a rapid decline in kidney function.” So, I would suggest glass, ceramic, porcelain, or stainless-steel tableware instead.
What about polyamide utensils? All sorts of different plastic materials are used in kitchen utensils. Polyamide is typically used for spatulas or ladles due to their high heat and oil resistance. “However, components of this plastic can migrate from the utensils into the food and consequently be ingested by consumers.” Out of 33 utensils tested, nearly one in three exceeded the upper safety limit. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment “recommends that consumers keep contact with food as brief as possible when using polyamide kitchen gadgets,” especially above the temperature at which like hot tea or coffee might be served at.
A different survey of black plastic kitchen utensils found about a third contaminated with flame retardant chemicals. Why? Because it may be made from plastic recycled from electronic equipment that was impregnated with the stuff. And then, should you dip it in oil, the chemicals can trickle out, suggesting using such “utensils for frying [could] lead to considerable dietary exposure.”
And, the black dye itself in some black polyamide utensils can leach out as well. Eventually, with enough use, the levels drop, but it may take the equivalent of boiling the utensils for about 100 hours before the dye leaking would approach safety levels. Probably just easier to use utensils that are wooden or stainless steel.
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