Melamine strikes again

The AFP reports,

China has launched a probe into food safety after the new discovery of products laced with melamine, a chemical blamed for the deaths of six babies in a huge scandal in 2008, state media said Tuesday.

In the latest cases, some companies were found to have made products using melamine-contaminated milk powder that was recalled after the scandal but found its way back on to the market, the official People’s Daily reported.

At a weekend meeting on food safety issues hosted by Health Minister Chen Zhu, officials decided to launch and inspection campaign "to thoroughly check potential problems in food safety," the newspaper said.

"There are still some businesses and individuals that ignore the safety and health of the public and are blinded by greed," it added.

According to the report, the companies involved in the fresh melamine scandal were based in several parts of China, including Shanghai and the northeastern province of Liaoning.

In the latest reported case, authorities in the southwestern province of Guizhou found that some products contained levels of the industrial chemical above allowable limits.

Melamine is a nitrogen rich compound (66% nitrogen) that is specifically used to increase the protein content of food products, namely milk. Upon doing so, one can dilute their product with water thereby increasing profits, essentially food adulteration for economic gain. The problem however, is when melamine combines with cyanuric acid causing crystallization in the kidneys ultimately leading to kidney failure and death.

In 2008, adulteration of infant formula lead to the deaths of six children in China and sickened nearly 300,000 others. Melamine is not approved for direct addition to human or animal foods2 and should therefore be kept out of the food chain.

  1. 1. U.S. Food And Drug Administration. Melamine Contamination in China. Januuary 5, 2009.
  2. 2. Mermelstein, N. Analyzing for Melamine. Journal of Food Technology. February, 2009.