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Beautiful pottery—but is it food-safe?

artesania ceramics clay crafts handmade lead-free Mexican pottery traditional

Lots of folks these days are discovering the joy of cooking and serving food in handmade clay cookware and dishes. There’s even a Facebook group devoted to the subject and they are seriously passionate about it. Members proudly post photos of their latest flea market and thrift store discoveries, and I’d say about once a week someone (usually a newish member) poses the question: how can I know if this awesome piece I found contains lead? As a frequent buyer of Mexican pottery for Mexico By Hand, it's an issue about which I know a fair amount. 

We are happy when folks show awareness of the hazards of pottery that contains lead.Lead accumulates in your body so even small amounts can be harmful.It's especially dangerous for artisans who are exposed on a daily basis.Though it is the law in Mexico that all pottery designed for food use be lead-free, the Mexican government does not have an inspection system in place to enforce the law, and that's why 90% of Mexican pottery produced still contains lead. It is illegal to import pottery into the United States that contains lead, but the only way for our government to catch "illegal pottery" is through random FDA inspections of imports when they cross the border. Our pottery has always cleared the FDA inspections, but there is no seal or label on each and every piece of pottery, or even every box. 

The other thing we can say is that if any of our pottery was found to contain even traces of lead, the entire truckload would be denied entry. We have heard that they might even smash it all. And we as importers would be black-listed for future entries. So it is risky to try to import pottery with leaded glazes if one wants to stay in business. 

But the other issue is this: Mexico By Hand is committed to working with potters in Mexico who use sustainable methods for producing food safe pottery. We buy lead-free pottery from the artisans because it is important to us to protect the health of the artisans, their families, and you-- the consumer.

So when you look at pottery like in the photo above, how can you tell if was made with leaded glazes? Well, you can use a lead check or swab, available at hardware stores and online. We have been buying from the same artisans for over a dozen years who we know produce lead-free pottery, but in the few cases where we see something we have doubts about, we use these swabs. How did those dishes do? Unfortunately, though beautiful, they do contain lead.

When you browse in our TABLETOP collection you'll see work by Capula artisan workshops Gonzalez-Ayala and Fernando Arroyo among others.They sign most but not all of their pieces and usually paint SIN PLOMO (lead-free) on them also. But you can feel confident that each and every one of their cups, plates and bowls are produced in their lead-free workshop.

 Click here to browse our collection:

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  • Maria Gomez on

    Thank you for providing a safe product for the consumers but also for those that work in making the product.

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