What is Melamine? A Crash Course

By Kristie Turck •  Published 10/07/08 •  3 min read

Last updated on February 8th, 2016 at 03:33 pm

Lead is so 2007.  This year it’s all about Melamine.  All the cool kids are worrying about it. First it was found in dog food, then baby formula, then Mr. Brown coffee and now, the FDA is recalling Blue Cat Flavor Drinks.  We’ve gotten a lot of questions about melamine dishware in the past weeks and we’ve been trying to find as much useful information as possible. Here’s what we know.

Melamine is an organic compound that is often combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, a synthetic polymer which is fire resistant and heat tolerant. Melamine resin is a very versatile material with a highly stable structure. Uses for melamine include whiteboards, floor tiles, kitchenware, fire retardant fabrics, and commercial filters.

Melamine resin is manufactured by mixing urea with formaldehyde under heat and pressure. The substances begin to polymerize and are forced into a mold which will create the desired shape.  The materials finish polymerizing and create a finished product, melamine resin.  This resin is what is used in many kitchen items.

We uncovered (Thanks for finding this Jaime!) a report from the National Toxicology Program that states,

Melamine resin, a hard thermosetting polymer made from melamine and formaldehyde, is widely used in the US in the form of kitchenware, including plates, bowls, mugs and utensils. Reports in the literature indicate that some kitchenware based on melamine resin leach considerable amounts of melamine monomer. A migration of up to 2.5 mg melamine/ 100 cm2 was observed under conditions that simulate an exposure to hot acidic foods…

I’m sure with enough digging we’ll find that any migration that occurs is low and “suitable for public safety”, especially if you ask the FDA.  But I am just not comfortable with melamine resin or formaldehyde leaching into my kids food when I take such care to give him something healthy.  The NTP confirms that more research is needed.

Healthy Child Healthy Word’s Janelle Sorensen found some interesting and disturbing information regarding melamine as well and has changed her position on using it for kids.  Please check out her latest article on Melamine here.  The Soft Landing posted some great info on Melamine yesterday too, read that here.  She brings up another good point: Melamine isn’t recyclable. Boo!

At SafeMama, we like to sway on the side of safety (even though some of you think we’re just trying to make your life difficult) but we don’t take chances when it comes to kids.  So for now, we don’t feel comfortable recommending Melamine dishware.  If you have some, there are a couple things you can do to limit exposure to chemical leaching:

I can hear you screaming at me already… “Are you kidding me?  If its not one thing its another.  Just when I thought I was doing the right thing its the wrong thing.  Maybe I should just move into a CAVE and eat off the ground!”  That wasn’t you?  Oh that’s right, it was me saying it to myself.

Before you freak out on me: We’ve compiled a new SafeMama Cheat Sheet of Safer Dishware to aide you in choosing dishes for your wee ones!  It’s a new list and it will grow so check back for new additons.