Technical FAQ: How to select safe melamine tableware?
Thanks to its beautiful designs and durability, melamine dinnerware is a familiar sight in restaurants and houses. However, as a result of this popularity, the market is also rife with imitations, many of which are made of materials that are not intended for food contact and may lead to chemical contamination in the food. Therefore, consumers should know what to look for when choosing melamine products to make sure that they meet required quality standards and will not cause health problems in the long run.
Uma Boriboon, Senior Professional Medical Scientist, Head of Food Contact Articles Section, and Deputy Director of the Bureau of Quality and Safety of Food, said,
“In 2013, the Department of Medical Sciences, the Ministry of Public Health, examined tableware on the market, using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrophotometer (FT-IR), and found products made of both melamine-formaldehyde as indicated (or 100% melamine resemble) and those made of urea-formaldehyde, a substance intentionally designed to resemble melamine. As the two materials cannot be distinguished with the naked eye, the Ministry of Public Health has launched campaigns to raise public awareness among consumers and encourage them to pay attention to the quality of their dishware.”
Consumers are suggested to observe the following:
- The product should bear a certification mark, such as an industrial standard certification mark, which indicates that the product has been tested to meet specification requirements and safety standards for food contact as specified on the label such as the Thai Industrial Standards Institute certification marks
- If the product bears no certification mark, the label must indicate that the product is made of 100% melamine.
- The label should also indicate directions for use, and the product should be made by a reliable manufacturer.
Although they are classified as aminoplastics under the same thermoset plastic umbrella, melamine-formaldehyde and urea-formaldehyde are produced differently and therefore have different properties. The molecular alignment from a reaction between melamine and formaldehyde forms a network structure, resulting in higher resistance than urea-formaldehyde. More importantly, melamine-formaldehyde, indicated as 100% melamine ware, has been certified quality and safety requirements for plastic containers and is also TISI 524-2530 certified.
Urea-formaldehyde is, on the other hand, suitable only for certain industrial products, such as auto bodies, sanitary ware, and power plugs. As it is lower in cost, unscrupulous importers and foreign manufacturers can sell these tableware in cheap price. However, when exposed to hot, greasy, or acidic food, such as many popular Thai dishes like tom yum, kaeng som, and pad krapow, these products can release harmful chemicals and can cause harms to the health of consumers.
Consumers, therefore, should be aware of these dangers, although they are confined to a small part of their daily life, and choose TISI certified products made by reliable manufacturers with certification.
Chemical test for melamine-formaldehyde or 100% melamine product (right) and urea-formaldehyde (left)
- Prior to the test, no difference between the two materials can be observed with the naked eye.
- The test involves placing a product in boiling waters. After ten test cycles, the surface of the urea-formaldehyde product will start to dull, while the 100% melamine product retains its sheen.
- In a dye test, urea-formaldehyde can be easily stained with rhodamine, whereas 100% melamine shows less staining. This test simulates staining that can occur with certain foods, such as kaeng som, kaeng leung, and yentafo.
- In an acid test, urea-formaldehyde demonstrates little resistance to acid, with the surface of the product severely damaged by the acid. On the other hand, 100% melamine shows good resistance to acid. This test simulates the acidity of popular tom yum
Apart from production standards and certified materials, the design of melamine tableware is another major consideration for many consumers. Thai MFC Co. Ltd., a melamine manufacturer and a subsidiary of Chemicals Business, SCG has made continuous efforts to improve its products through research, material design, and raw material selection to enable manufacturers to create melamine ware that meets wide-ranging needs, such as earth-tone products and tableware with a sandstone texture and design, both of which are currently very popular