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Is Melmac safe?
Does anyone know whether there are any health or safety concerns associated with dishes, bowls, cups, etc. made from Melmac (or Melamine) in the 1950s? I've been eating off dishes from Prolon's "Florence" line, designed by George Nelson & Associates in the early 50s, for some time. Sometimes, and only with respect to the coffee mugs, I've noticed a chemical sort of odor emanating from the me. I usually throw out any items that have such smells, but I worry that even the ones that don't have this odor might be somehow hazardous.

By the way, what exactly is "melmac," and how does it differ from the sort of hard plastic dishware that one finds these days?

Any info would be appreciated.
posted by ycl
Melamine Formaldehyde
Melamine is a thermosetting plastic based on Formaldehyde (Like Bakelite). The problem is, it gets soft under heat. Boiling water from coffee will soften the polymer which can add a taste and possibly and odor to your drink. It is not recommended to serve coffee in Melmac (or any plastic really). Plasticizers and chemical filler do migrate into food and beverage when heated to a softening point. Obviously, you know it's NOT microwaveable. Are there health Risks? I don't know about melamine specifically (there are health risks with newer plastics [though I'm sure there are just as many studies disputing this]) If you need to use plastic cookware for heated items look for Microwave safe specifically or polyethylene which doen't contain toxic plasticizers.

The difference from today's plastics is basically the "additives" and chemicals used to soften, harden, color etc. Formaldehyde being one of the chemicals not used as much in place settings. Melamine is still used alot for counter tops flooring etc.
posted by Z M
Sorry ZM
But... Melmac is indeed a melamine and yes it is based on formaldehyde, but it does not get soft under heat! As you point out it is thermo-setting! and not thermo-plastic. Boiling water, even boiling oil will not soften the melamine and will not add taste to your drink. It contains no plasticizers and the fillers (mostly kaolin (as in touthpaste) and cellulose fibers) will not migrate into the food. Melamine has been used for decades for high quality kitchen utensils, mixing bowls, spoons etc. and for all kinds of dinnerware, decorated and undecorated. It is perfectly safe.
Melmac is one brand, Rosti/Mepal another and there are dozens more. The differences are mostly in the choice of fillers. More fiber fillers decrease the resistance to scratching but reduce breakage.Even the general rule that it is not microwave resistant is not completely true, but that's too long a story. ZM's point to keep it out of the micro-wave is good advise.
posted by koen

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