The Food and Drug Administration yesterday announced the recall of Giovanni DeSimone handmade pottery dishes after finding that some of the plates released 50 times more lead into foods than the agency considers safe.
Sold in department stores and specialty boutiques, the costly Italian imports are the latest foreign-made dishes to be pulled off U.S. shelves since the FDA intensified enforcement last year of its standards for lead release. Even low-level exposure to the metal is known to cause neurological problems.
"Foods served, or worse, stored in some of those dishes could develop levels of lead that could irreversibly damage the central nervous system of children," said FDA Commissioner Frank E. Young.
Pulverized lead is used in glazing dinnerware to give it a rich color and glossy sheen. If fired at high enough temperatures, lead is sealed into the plate's surface. But inadequately baked glazes can degrade over time and release microscopic particles of lead into food and liquids.
U.S. producers of ceramic dinnerware generally have observed proper firing techniques since the FDA imposed the standards in 1971. But foreign producers are said to take cost-saving shortcuts.
Because imports are a major portion of dinnerware sales -- accounting for 60 percent in 1983 -- the FDA has stepped up inspections, resulting in recalls last year of thousands of foreign-made dishes.
No company spokesmen were available late yesterday, and it is unclear how they plan to retrieve the dinnerware from consumers or how many have been sold.
Some plates complied with the FDA lead-release limits, which range from 2.5 to 7.5 parts per million depending on size. But one item released 233 parts per million of lead, the FDA said.
The FDA said DeSimone's decorative items such as ash trays and vases can continue to be used, but food dishes should be returned.