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Is melamine tableware safe?

Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., tells CBSNews.com that melamine may leach out of tableware if the food is especially acidic, tableware is damaged and if the products are used when serving or reheating hot foods.

Spaeth, who was not involved in the study, said it would be an "overreaction" to tell people to avoid all melamine plates and dishes, since the study did not look at safety and toxicity of the product. However, the study did suggest people eating from the products are getting exposed to the chemical, he said.

"It's a pretty strong link to see high levels after that," said Spaeth. ""It's reasonable to have some concerns of what exposure could be happening, and the impact it could have on human health."

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Whereas other chemicals that may enter our bodies through food -- like BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates -- are more ubiquitous in the environment, Spaeth said melamine exposure is often more restricted to certain types of containers or tableware that can be avoided.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says previous tests suggest the amount of melamine that gets into a drink like orange juice is 250 times lower than the level the agency has concluded is acceptable in foods other than infant formula. The FDA adds that more exposure is possible when highly acidic foods are heated in microwave ovens.

"Only ceramic or other cookware which specifies that the cookware is microwave-safe should be used," according to the FDA. "The food may then be served on melamine-based tableware."

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