Recently, there has been some concern about its use in serving food and drink. Research has proven that everyday drinking and serving from these vessels does not pose a risk, but a little product education goes a loooong way. Although the elegance and beauty of lead crystal have led to its broad use in serving food and beverages, an element of caution is necessary when choosing to eat or drink from lead crystal stemware, dinnerware, or storage containers. This is due to the danger of the lead content in the crystal leaching into liquids and causing serious health issues. Lead is a highly toxic metal that is found in small amounts within the earth's crust. The amount of lead that dissolves into food and drink will depend on the lead content of the crystal, the type of food or beverage contained in the crystal, and the period of time they remain in contact with each other.
The severity of the health risks associated with lead crystal is relative to the percentage of lead contained in the serving dish or container. The lead content in crystal can range from 24 to 33 percent, and is dependent upon the amount of lead oxide added to the glass. In addition, certain foods and beverages are associated with increased lead leaching. This is especially true for acidic foods and beverages, such as pickles, fruit juices, port, wine, and soft drinks. In addition, using lead crystal containers to store certain items, such as storing jam in a lead jam pot, may also pose health risks. Determining Lead Content in CrystalBecause the lead content in crystal is not necessarily stamped on the manufacturer's label, there are other ways to determine lead content when choosing crystal for eating and drinking purposes. Crystal having lead content provides a much higher light refraction index than normal glass, giving it a much greater sparkle effect. In addition, lead crystal has a luminous, silvery look, and is famous for having a musical ringing tone, such as that heard when crystal glasses are clinked together in a toast. In comparison, ordinary glass provides a more tinny sound.
To reduce health risks, soak new lead crystal in vinegar for at least 24 hours prior to use. Hand-wash each piece using a mild detergent and then rinse thoroughly. Lead crystal can safely be used to serve most food and drinks during a meal, because no liquid will remain in the serving dish or container long enough for leaching to occur in an amount that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency's standards. However, do not store port, cognac or other alcoholic beverages in lead crystal storage containers. Use lead crystal decanters only for serving. Fill decanters with alcoholic beverages prior to serving, and then pour the remaining contents into a lead-free storage container, such as the original bottle in which it was purchased. Lead crystal jam pots can be used safely in the same manner. Avoid serving children and pregnant women with lead crystal, as they are at an increased risk for the dangers of lead exposure.