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How old is the dinnerware?
The age of dinnerware provides a clue about the risk of lead poisoning.
Dishes produced before 1971 are more likely to contain dangerous levels of lead even though many dishes produced before 1971 do not contain lead.
If you can identify the manufacturer and pattern name, you can contact them to learn more about the glaze used and the possibility of lead.
Even if dishes originally did not leach lead—but are now chipped or scratched by steak knives—or if the pattern has begun to wear off, using them is not worth the health risk. The FDA recommends using a home test kit to determine lead content.
Most suspect for lead are: folk pottery, hand-crafted dishes and patterns made prior to 1971 when the FDA set standards for lead usage in dinnerware.
Is the glaze in good condition?
If glaze is crazed or crackled, the dinnerware might have been stored in a hot attic or damp cellar. Temperature and humidity affect the contraction and expansion of earthenware clay bodies and glazes which in turn causes crazing and crackling. Crazes, cracks and chips in earthenware may hold bacteria and should not be used for food.
How long does dinnerware last?
All dishes break, yet many of us use dishes belonging to our grandparents. Good care, minimal usage and excellent storage keeps ceramic dinnerware looking good for several generations— although it’s advisable to test old dinnerware for lead. Daily usage and constant swishing of dishwasher detergents takes a toll on the glaze and pattern decorations of ceramic dinnerware.
Do you know the generic name of the clay?
Each kind of generic clay imparts characteristics of delicacy and/or sturdiness which affects purity and durability. Most dinnerware has a manufacturer’s logo stamped and fired on the bottom of each piece. So if you’re not sure of the generic name of the clay— (experience has taught me not to trust the seller’s opinion),check the manufacturer’s website.
Where was the dinnerware made?
Most developed nations have mass-produced and exported reliable dinnerware for the last 200 years. However, there is possible danger of lead leaching into food from contemporary folk pottery dishes from developing nations. It’s suggested these wares be used only as decoration.
Is the dinnerware well-finished?
All edges of ceramic dishes, including foot rims, must be smooth and there should be no visible mold marks on a top surface. Spouts, handles and finials must not look ‘added-on’, they should appear seamless.
Is the pattern a decal or hand-painted?
Just because a pattern is hand-painted, ‘sloppy’ is unacceptable. All patterns, whether transfer or decal, must appear seamless. If an applied pattern shows excessive signs of wear, pass.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
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