Dinner table and pottery can be dangerous

Thanksgiving dinner tables should not include food in certain types of pottery. Though the containers can be very attractive they are especially hazardous if used for cooking, preparing, serving or storing food or drinks.

Some traditional ceramic pottery made by several manufacturers in Mexico—and labeled “lead free”, does in fact contain lead. This pottery can exceed the acceptable limits for “leachable” lead. This is lead that could get into food that comes in contact with the pottery.

You should be especially careful of pottery made with earthenware, a porous form of clay.This type of pottery must undergo glazing. Glazing is a process in which a thin, glass-like coating is applied and fused onto the surface of the clay. This seals the pottery's pores, allowing it to hold food or liquid.

This glaze fuses to the pottery when it is fired in a kiln, a special oven used to bake clay. Though the glazes used now do not have lead the old kilns can have residue and will contaminate the pots. The concern is that the lead may leach into the food in the container.

How to protect yourself and your family

  • Be aware that some pottery should be used for decoration only, and not for holding or serving food.
  • Also, know that a child with lead poisoning may not look or act sick. If your child has been eating or drinking from pottery that may have allowed lead to leach into food, talk to your health care professional about testing your child’s blood for lead.
  • Be wary if pottery you have was purchased from a flea market or a street vendor, or if you are unable to determine whether the pottery is from a reliable manufacturer.
  • Look over your pottery and check to see if it is handmade with a crude appearance or irregular shape; antique; damaged or excessively worn or brightly decorated in orange, red, or yellow colors.

If you have pottery that fits any of these descriptions or if you're concerned about the safety of pottery in your home, you can:

  • Look for a warning label on the pottery. If the pottery was made for use only as a decorative item, it may have a warning (such as “Not for Food Use—May Poison Food”) stamped onto the bottom.
  • Test the pottery. Lead-testing kits, which are sold in hardware stores and online, come with swabs and instructions. They do not damage the pottery. With most, the swab will change colors if lead leaches onto the swab. If a test reveals a positive result for leachable lead, don’t use the pottery for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks.
  • If you are unable to test the pottery or otherwise determine that it is not from a reliable manufacturer, don’t use it for cooking, serving, or storing food or drinks.
  • Be aware that no amount of washing, boiling, or other process can remove lead from pottery.