Imported Kitchen Items: Are Foreign Standards As High As American Standards?


#1

This is a bit of a different question for this forum, but there are so many well-read people here that I thought that I’d ask.

So much of the things I buy for my kitchen are made abroad, the main producer being China. I have always harbored a skepticism about goods made in third-world countries or some under-developed Asian countries that have poor or minimal standards when it comes to industrial practices that liberally use metals like lead or cheap oil-based materials in the final product. I’m concerned with ingesting toxic materials. So for example, I don’t own dishes that were perhaps made with poor quality glazes, pans with cheap non-stick finishes, etc. Not only that, but I have issues with other aspects of production (labor practices, impact on the environment, pricing) but this thread isn’t about these matters.

Well, I’ve been wanting to buy a ribbed glass canister set that come in sets of three with metal lids that look like pewter. Today, I found them at TJ Maxx (a discount store) priced individually so they are a good deal. So, although it was hard to resist the amber, cobalt blue and brilliant red, I bought the clear glass jars with a fairly ornate lid (the top looks like an acorn) that has a silicone ring seal on the inside edge. When I saw that these were made in China, I wondered if I should worry about storing foods like flour, sugar, etc in these canisters. I would think that glass is very stable and this glass isn’t colored. But I don’t know what to think. I could put different varieties of pasta in these canisters and they would look nice, however, I really want to use them to hold food rather than serve a decorative function only.

Has anyone heard about the safety of glassware imported from abroad? You know, when I go to the dollar store and look at some of the junk that people will buy to eat off of, I get sick. I’ve also decided not to even keep the cheap cups that my children are always bringing home from school/sports events. I look for recycling symbols on plastics. If the piece doesn’t have a recycling symbol, then I suspect that it is poorly made and I throw it away. All of my dishes and serving pieces are Corning, which means that it was made here.

What do you think? Will I be baking toxic loaves of bread if I store the flour in canister made under questionable manufacturing practices? Thanks in advance for your replies.


#2

The sort of problem that I’m worried about is leachable metals, like lead, that are ingredients in glazes (and glassware?) Here’s an article I found on-line:

Some imported glassware hazardous
FDA Consumer, March, 1990

Several patterns of imported glass tableware sold last spring at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, and several other department stores in California, New York, and the Northeast may contain dangerously high levels of lead that can leach into food. The patterns are “Crackle Rim,” “Murrina Clear,” “Cracked Gold,” and “Murrina Transparent Silver” collections of dinner plates, soup plates, bowls, stemware, vases, and ashtrays. Some of these patterns may also be sold as the “Orofolio” collection.

Consumers who purchased any of this glassware should immediately stop using it and return it to the store where purchased. Eating off these products or even handling them could cause acute abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea in adults and children, or central nervous system damage in fetuses and small children.

Lead leached from samples reached levels higher than 16,000 parts per million (ppm). (Currently, safe levels for ceramic products range from 2.5 to 7 ppm. An FDA proposal now is calling for lowering the allowable limit to 0.1 ppm for some items.)

FDA discovered the problem during a routine inspection of a shipment that arrived at the San Francisco port. Other shipments were sent to the New York port. The glassware was manufactured by SI-AN di Cioni & Busoni of Florence, Italy, and sold to various U.S. companies. R.H. Macy Company and other retailers have taken the glassware off their shelves and posted warnings of the danger to alert customers who had purchased the products.

…Here’s another article:

A rapid lead test: Public outreach and testing to detect leachable lead in ceramic ware

Abstract A modification of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lead screening test of ceramic ware was made to screen large numbers of samples in a short time frame. Ceramic ware in use by Davis and Sacramento, California residents was tested. Lead was leached from ceramic ware with citric acid and identified by rhodizonic acid in this quick, qualitative test. Of 92 individual pieces of pottery tested, approximately 6.6% were positive for leachable lead. Approximately 67% of the positive samples were handmade in Mexico. This rapid test is sensitive to two (2) parts per million (ppm, g/g) leachable lead. Ceramic ware with detectable leachable lead levels may present a health risk to individuals who habitually use such items for food storage and/or consumption. Because only 20–30 minutes is needed to perform the test, immediate communication of results to the participant is possible.
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Both of these articles are at least 10 years old, so maybe the problem no longer exists. However, a good friend just bought a child’s lunch box last week from LL Bean which was vinyl on the inside (and made in China). The enclosed directions said to throughly clean the vinyl interior to remove residues from manufacturing. China does not have the regulations in place that keep toxic compounds like lead out of the air, water, or soil because they are used in the manufacturing process. This is one of the reasons why stuff from China is cheap.

Any other comments? Thank you!


#3

Plastics and vinyl from any source should be fully cleaned when you get them. The residues can be there, regardless of where they were manufactured. You should not use anything plastic to hold food unless it is specifically marketted as food grade plastic or vinyl.

Likewise, American merchants cannot skirt regulations regarding cookware simply by having the cookware manufactured overseas. You do need to be careful not to use items sold as decorative merchandise to hold food (since lead glazes are allowed on decorative items and are safe to have in the home) and to not assume that cookware purchased outside of the United States is held to the same standards…even if the country formally has high standards, you need to investigate how strictly those standards are enforced.

Also…lead crystal is safe to drink out of, but not safe to store acidic or alcoholic liquids in for the long term. If you are in the habit of transferring some port or expensive liquour into your grandparent’s antique crystal bottles, or even into crystal carafes that you bought yesterday, you’ll want to stop that. These are ok for one-day use, but after an extended period a significant amount of lead can be expected to leach into the drink.

Also, it is becoming more and more probable that getting food super-hot in certain plastics may pose a hazard. If you have the choice, any serious microwave heating should be done in glass. (In other words, 15 or 20 seconds to get something warm isn’t what I mean. I mean generating serious steam or hot spots.) We are talking about a small cumulative effect, not something that is going to stunt your brain in one shot, though.


#4

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