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Cooking spoons and crockery made of melamine resin are not suited for microwaves and cooking

11/2011, 12.05.2011

At high temperatures melamine and formaldehyde are released

Plates, dishes and other kitchen utensils made of melamine resin can release melamine and formaldehyde when heated. At temperatures as they are reached during cooking, harmful amounts of the substances can migrate to foods. Studies by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the control authorities of the Federal States show that the limit values which apply to the migration of melamine and formaldehyde to foods are clearly exceeded. With a view to the release of formaldehyde, there is, moreover, a health risk by inhalation of the substance. "Consumers should, therefore, not use crockery and kitchen utensils made of melamine resin for frying, cooking and for heating of foods in a microwave oven", is the advice given by Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of BfR. If these articles are used below temperatures of 70 °C, there is, however, no health risk.

Melamine resins are plastics which are produced from the basic materials melamine and formaldehyde. The materials are hard and break-proof, have a smooth surface and are used because of these material properties, amongst other things, for the production of articles of daily use such as cooking spoons and crockery. Study results of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the federal state authorities have shown that the use of products made from melamine resins involve a release of increased amounts of melamine and formaldehyde during cooking and in microwaves, which can migrate to foods.

Temperatures that are reached during cooking and frying or when heating foods in microwave ovens can lead to a disintegration of the material, particularly during the contact with acid-containing foods such as many preparations based on fruit and vegetables. These processes can also be identified optically since the surfaces of items made of melamine resins loose their lustre. If the surface is damaged, the disintegration process is accelerated. During this disintegration melamine and formaldehyde are released.

At present the provisions of the EU Regulation on plastics for food contact provide for a specific migration limit of 30 mg/kg for the migration of melamine to foods. In a re-assessment of melamine the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reduced the tolerable daily intake for this substance in 2010. So far there has not yet been an adjustment of the specific migration limit value for melamine. For the migration of formaldehyde to foods the migration limit is 15 mg/kg.

At temperatures up to 70 °C, i.e. the conditions when pouring hot beverages into cups or mugs, these values are complied with. The migration of melamine and formaldehyde can be classified as harmless under these conditions of use. However if at higher temperatures there is a prolonged contact of melamine resin products with hot foodstuffs, the migration limit values are partly exceeded to a significant extent. Formaldehyde is, moreover, a volatile substance so that there is also a health risk by inhalation.

For this reason BfR recommends consumers not to use crockery and kitchen utensils made of melamine resins for frying, cooking and heating of foods in a microwave.

About BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. BfR engages in own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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