Melamine
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Melamine is a type of organic, nitrogen-rich Plastic that is flame-retardant.

We run across Melamine in the kitchen most often in lightweight outdoor tableware, serving pieces like Bowls and Trays and in tableware designed for younger diners. It is used for these products because it is inexpensive, can be formed into attractive designs and is considered "unbreakable," which is handy in the event that little fingers fumble.

Production

In a production setting, Melamine manifests as a white crystalline powder. It is flame-retardant, and nitrogen-rich. It is combined with formaldehyde to make a Melamine Resin that is very moldable into objects, such as dishware, cups, countertops, cabinets, tiles, whiteboards, etc.

The FDA has not approved Melamine for human or animal foods or as a fertilizer, but it is approved for other products and can be dangerous even if handled properly because it releases nitrogen oxide and hydrogen cyanide when heated. It has also been misused in industry leading to fatally tainted products.

Culinary Uses

Melamine is found in utensils, cups, dishware, serving items etc. and is generally considered safe because Melamine does not migrate into most foods.

There is a "but" coming. Melamine will slowly leech into food and drinks when heated or if the food is acidic (Vinegar, Tomatoes, Lemons, etc.).  Heating acidic foods increases the rate of leeching. Melamine can also give off nitrogen oxide and hydrogen cyanide when heated.

In our kitchens, we don't hold acids in Melamine. We also don't heat with Melamine or hold heated / cooked foods in Melamine and advise you to avoid doing all three too.

That being said, understand the scope of the risk. The FDA's limit for Melamine intake is 2,500 parts per billion (PPB) and holding Lemonade (an Acid) in a Melamine cup for 15 minutes may leech 10 PPB Melamine into the drink.  The margin of safety for that one hypothetical act is 250 times coverage.

At Smart Kitchen, we try to be reasoned. We don't run screaming from Melamine but we pigeonhole it for specific uses. We think of Melamine items as picnic-ware, kiddie-ware and for Garde Manger (the Cold Kitchen).  If we avoid acids, ovens, microwaves, and / or 160˚F (or higher), we can work with Melamine.