Types/Shapes/Sizes: Melamine takes the shape of all types of dishware including plates and bowls as well as display items such as pans, trays, platters and ramekins. Plate sizes feature traditional round, modern square or triangle shapes to save space, and others have compartments. Some manufacturers also make melamine stem and glassware, containers and bottles, colanders, soup bowls and ladles, spoons, and accessories such as vases.
Manufacturing Method: Melamine is a colorless, crystal-like organic compound. Combining the powder- based melamine with formaldehyde under intense heat creates a very durable, break-resistant plastic material. Manufacturers pour the melamine into a mold that a machine then compresses into its final form. After removing the items from the machine and allowing them to cool, manufacturers add color or a design. In the design case, patterned paper soaks in melamine and, once dried out in an oven, is applied to the plate and put back into the machine for another round of compression. Or, the plates can be hand-painted and then sealed with a protective layer. This avoids creating bumps or ridges in the material that can chip off like cheaper plastic items with designs.
Standard Features: Melamine is shatterproof, chip-resistant, break-resistant, flame-retardant and dishwasher-safe. This material also is odorless, and resists scratches, moisture and chemicals. Products come with various designs and patterns or as solids in festive colors like reds, oranges, greens and blues. They can also be clear like glass. All melamine products receive a special coating creating a shinier finish.
New Features/Trends: Melamine dishware was very popular during the 1950s, and the retro look of bright colors and funky designs continues to prove popular. Trendier products tend to have coupe, triangular or other unique shapes because they save space and offer a modern look. Some plates and dishware have beveled or curved edges. Mosaic designs and speckling are also popular and more restaurants look for customized patterns to set themselves apart. Some dishes come in creative shapes like boats for sushi, pineapples and other fruits, and beach chairs and umbrella for outdoor dining venues. These are especially popular in kid-friendly, themed restaurants. One newer dinnerware line is designed to be stacked compactly, saving storage space.
Key Kitchen Applications: Melamine cannot withstand heat more than 212°F., so it is not recommended for baking or cooking use, and should not go in convection ovens, although operators can use the product with re-thermalizing ovens or hotboxes. The material will not melt, but it will crack at extreme temperatures and become dangerously hot. However, some manufacturers carry a limited line of "hi-heat" melamine that can withstand temperatures up to 400°F. Many restaurants, hotels, cruise lines and other facilities with buffets use melamine trays, pans and dishware for holding and displaying foods. Schools, hospitals and nursing homes use melamine dishware for its durability. The product is also less expensive than traditional chinaware, although it has the look and feel of china.
Purchasing Guidelines: Melamine is appropriate for operators using large amounts of dishware such as schools, hospitals and other non-commercial segments, and those who are more interested in a durable, lightweight product that will last longer than formal china or ceramic. Melamine products cost less than most higher-end china, but cost a bit more than the lowest quality dishware. Melamine products are also ideal for outdoor dining, or for kid-friendly restaurants because of their chip-resistant, unbreakable qualities. Also, it is important to make sure the melamine product is well-made. This can be determined by flipping over the plate and making sure there is no gap between the rim of the dish and the table or other surface on which it is resting. Gaps indicate that the mold was poorly made, and can cause breakage. They also create sanitation issues because they create more rivets that harbor bacteria.
Maintenance Requirements: Melamine is break-resistant and dishwasher-safe.
Food Safety & Sanitation Essentials: Melamine products are NSF-certified.