Should You Check for Lead?

Consumer advocates say it may make sense to test certain items used for food, especially if very young children are in the house.

Frequently asked questions

What should I look for? The Food and Drug Administration advises paying particular attention to ceramics and pottery that are brightly painted in orange, red, or yellow; antique, damaged, or worn; handmade with a crude appearance or irregular shape; purchased from flea markets or street vendors; or made by an unknown manufacturer.

How should I test them? Lead-screening kits available in any hardware store - a 10-pack costs $25 to $30 - are adequate for home use, although the swabs  may produce "false positives": They may correctly indicate the presence of lead that more sophisticated laboratory tests would determine is not at levels high enough to be out of  compliance with FDA regulations.

Are there warning labels? Items intended for decorative use are not regulated for lead. They are supposed to be stamped with warnings such as "Not for food use."

Can I minimize the risk? Heat, acid, and time all encourage the leaching of lead, says Jeffrey Ashley, a chemist at Philadelphia University. In other words, avoid repeatedly microwaving a mug of coffee and letting it sit.