Do not use "bamboo ware" tableware for hot drinks and meals
Whether reusable "coffee to go" beakers or cups and bowls with animal motifs - retail offers a variety of tableware made of melamine-formaldehyde-resin (MFR), even for children. The material is light and shatterproof. When it contains bamboo fibres as filler, it is often advertised as "bamboo ware". "From a health point of view, however, these products are not always suitable for use as tableware," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. This is due to the fact that, at higher temperatures, harmful amounts of melamine and formaldehyde can migrate from the tableware into food. This has been shown in the toxicological assessment of data of the official control laboratories of the federal states as well as own data by the BfR. "And there is another reason why these plastic objects are not suitable for hot liquids such as coffee, tea or baby food," continues Hensel. In addition to the high levels of release of formaldehyde and melamine, the BfR's long-term tests showed that the plastic degrades when in contact with hot liquids. Often, "bamboo ware" releases even higher amounts of harmful formaldehyde and melamine than "conventional" MFR cups," Hensel continues. In individual cases, health-based guidance values were exceeded by up to 120 times. On the other hand, tableware made of MFR is well suited for cold or lukewarm food. Often "bamboo ware" products are advertised as environmentally friendly, biodegradable or made exclusively from renewable raw materials. However, MFR is a non-biodegradable plastic - even if natural fillers are added to it.
Link to BfR-Opinion
- Fillable articles made from melamine formaldehyde resin, such as coffee-to-go cups sold as ‘bambooware’, may leak harmful substances into hot foods (PDF file,1.60 MB)
Link to BfR-FAQ
So-called "bamboo ware" refers to tableware made of melamine-formaldehyde-resin (MFR) that contains bamboo fibres as filler.
When filled with hot liquids such as coffee, tea or infant formula, MFR tableware in general, and bamboo ware in particular, can release amounts of formaldehyde and melamine, which might possess an increased health risk. This is the result of a BfR assessment of data on the transfer of melamine and formaldehyde from MFR tableware to hot liquid foods. On average, even higher levels of released formaldehyde and melamine were measured from "bamboo ware" articles than from "conventional" MFR tableware. For the assessment, the BfR has derived a tolerable daily intake (TDI), at which no health risk is expected. According to BfR calculations, formaldehyde release from some "bamboo ware" cups would exceed the TDI by 30 times for adults and 120 times for toddlers. Therefore, for adults who regularly drink coffee from such reusable cups, or for toddlers who consume hot milk, tea or follow-on formula from "bamboo ware" cups or bowls on a daily basis, a risk to health arises.
The BfR recommends that hot foods or drinks are not consumed from "bamboo ware". This also applies to "conventional" MFR tableware. Both materials are also unsuitable for heating food in the microwave. When used for cold or lukewarm foods, however, there is no risk to health.
The BfR has used data from official control laboratories of the federal states from 2014 to 2019 for its risk assessment as well as its own results on the release of melamine or formaldehyde, respectively. 3% acetic acid was used as a food simulant. Many of the samples were examined as part of the official monitoring of food contact materials. Overall, results for formaldehyde release from 366 cups and bowls (138 from "conventional" MFR and 228 from "bamboo ware") and for melamine release from 291 articles (111 from "conventional" MFR and 180 from "bamboo ware") were available.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the German federal government and federal states on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.
This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.