Technology & Science

Lead warning sounded for Moroccan platters

Health Canada seizes and destroys 1,500 tajines used for cooking stews. Some products contained 2,000 times more than legal limit for lead.

Tajines — shallow, ceramic pots with a conical lid used to cook meat and vegetable stews — can contain dangerous levels of lead, Health Canada warns.

Some tajines imported from Morocco can be hazardous if the ceramic isn't glazed uniformly or the pottery isn't fired at a hot enough temperature, according to the department.

In these cases, lead in the glaze can leach into cooking liquids during stewing. Lead poisoning is especially dangerous in children.

A medical toxicologist in Quebec discovered the problem while visiting traditional tajine craftshops in Morocco on a mission for the World Health Organization.

In "this technique, I saw they use pure lead coming directly from the mine," said Dr. Albert Nantel of the Quebec National Institute of Public Health. "They only crush, put it in water, apply it on the tajine itself and they cook it at very low temperature."

Children exposed to lead show lower IQ, and it can cause their behaviour to change, Nantel said. "They will have less ability to learn, they will be more agitated, more aggressive."

Health Canada has since seized and destroyed 1,500 tajines from retailers in Montreal.

The legal limit for lead is one part per million, but some tajines contained 2,000 times more, said Domenico Sarro, a product safety inspector for Health Canada.

Although Health Canada went to stores to remove tajines, some shops in Montreal still have the products on their shelves.

Lead poisoning tends to come from glazes that develop a chalky or dusty grey residue after washing, according to the department's website.

Tajines suspected of releasing lead should be thrown out and replaced with lead-free versions or safe substitutes such as Dutch ovens, slow cookers, and glass casserole dishes with lids.

The department remains on the lookout for hazardous tajines and has advised Canadian Border Services to check as well.