When on vacation, one of the first things to catch my eye in the open markets is pottery. It's bright with vivid patterns and colors and makes an excellent souvenir of a wonderful trip. A nice dish but unfortunately, not all ceramic pottery is safe to use for serving or storing food, because what may be acceptable in one country, may not meet or even come close to, our national standards when it comes to lead content and food safety.
Making ceramic pottery decades ago, I learned that in order for a hand-turned or molded piece of pottery to be food-safe, it had to be coated completely with a lead-free food-grade glaze. It was then fired in the pottery kiln, for a certain amount of time at an appropriate temperature.
Any departure from these requirements or even a small blemish in this glaze, would render the piece unsafe to use with food making it a mere ornament. But only the potter knows for certain whether the glaze was lead-free, the kiln free of lead contaminants and the item food-safe. Once the firing process is completed, an earthenware ceramic vessel looks similar to any other ceramic dishes.
My point is this: Beware of earthenware ceramic items you buy from artisans at home and especially while on your travels, if you intend to use it for food. Unless you know without a doubt that it's food safe, use it only as a display piece. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration(FDA) also has concerns about ceramic earthenware, especially those from other countries where standards and practices may not meet our own. Consumers should be careful not to use such ceramic dishes for serving or storing foods.
Learn more about the FDA's tests and concerns in their article: Some Lead-Free Pottery Can Still Taint Food
And, when in doubt - use pottery for ornamental purposes only.
Photo © Mifflin