Imported Kitchen Ware: Are Foreign Standards As High As Americas?

cupofkindnessNovember 17, 2006

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 in some 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 glass canister set that come in sets of three with metal lids that look like pewter. Today, I found them at TJ Maxx 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, 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 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, but come to think of it, my cute eight sided cups (that match my octagonal kitchen) are probably made out of cheap plastic. Egads!

Thanks in advance for your replies.

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I would not worry about clear glass.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2006 at 8:56PM
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Thank you, mitchdesj for your reply. The sort of problem that I'm worried about is leachable metals, like lead, that are ingredients in glazes (and glassware). After doing a quick search on Google, I came up with these two articles:

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 2030 minutes is needed to perform the test, immediate communication of results to the participant is possible.
. .
. .

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 dangerous compounds like lead out of the air, water, or soil. In fact, food grown in certain areas contains lead, so I try to avoid foods made in China (like honey). This is one of the reasons why stuff from China is cheap. I think you're right about clear glass (is glass naturally clear?). Also, given that I'll be storing stable ingredients like flour and sugar (rather than acidic foods), I think it should be safe.

I don't subscribe to women's magazines or health magazines, the newspaper, or watch the news, so I wanted to check here to make certain that what I purchased was food-safe. I'll give them a good scrubbing with lots of hot water and call it a day. Oh, and I think that the lids are aluminum.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2006 at 7:44AM
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I remember that scare from the 70's. I quit using a juice pitcher and wine glasses for that reason.

I haven't seen anything about it recently, but I did find this 2004 article,, about high lead levels in tamarind candy and in chili powder stored in glazed ceramic pottery from Mexico. Apparently the lead leaches out from the glaze.

I don't think the clearness of the glass has anything to do with it. Remember those beautiful lead crystal decanters we are not supposed to use any more?

I noticed in IKEA that some of their glass storage containers say they are OK for liquid storage, but some others say NOT suitable for liquid storage. Huh? I don't think they should sell these at all. Who's going to remember this years from now.

A few months ago, I made up several liqueurs. I was concerned about the alcohol being stored in glass containers, so, to be safe, I recycled rum and vodka bottles from liquor stores.

In short, I still don't know how to tell if a container is safe for storage. I would also like to know the answer to this.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2006 at 10:59AM
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I agree 100%. Any tableware/dishes that should not be used to serve/store food should not be sold. The worst of it seems to wind up at dollar stores, but Target and Walmart have their fair share of junky looking ceramic items to that makes me wonder about how it was produced. Adoptedbygreyhounds, I think you were wise to recycle liquor bottles for your liqueurs. Thanks for your reply.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2006 at 9:10AM
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Hmmm--wonder why all these Chinese kids do so well on their math tests? Maybe we ought to ingest what they ingest. . . .

    Bookmark   November 24, 2006 at 9:07AM
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Actually, the reason I know about the lead problem is because friends adopted a Chinese orphan and the lead levels in her blood were four times higher that the United States maximum allowable levels due to the fact that lead is in the air, soil, foods, and probably in the paints and building materials in China as well. I don't want ANY children ingesting what they have no choice but to asborb in the form of food or air in industrial or developing nations with no environmental/health regulations in place to protect their citizens. I refuse to buy any metal jewelery made in Asia (a lead poisoning a few years ago resulting from children putting the pendants on their necklaces in their mouths led to a recall of all Chinese made jewelery of a certain type) unless it's silver or gold, cheap plastic toys that smell like petroleum (especially the stretchy plastic toys), painted objects, and glazed ceramics as well, since all of these items may contain toxic metals which can be taken in through the mouth. Prolonged lead contamination will ruin a life and if that little girl hadn't been adopted she may have ended up retarded. Really, it's nothing to joke about.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2006 at 6:48PM
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I'm learning something here, even glass can be contaminated.
I agree that having a warning on something can easily be overlooked, they should just not sell it.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2006 at 4:57AM
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