Currently browsing posts about: Melamine

Oct 22 2008

San Francisco Chronicle: Melamine

Today’s Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about the melamine scandals.  Melamine is still a big problem.  It has just turned up as the cause of death of 1,500 raccoon “dogs” (animals raised for fur in China) and in pizzas in Japan.  There seems no end to ingenious uses for making food and feed appear to have more protein than they really do, never mind that melamine forms kidney crystals when mixed with one of its by-products, cyanuric acid.

For the science types among you, the intrepid Procter & Gamble scientists who identified melamine in pet food have just published their toxicology findings.  Take a look at Figure 1, which compares the chromatography of the “control” (safe) cat food with the cat food “tainted” with melamine and its nasty by-products.  And check out Table 1; it reports that nearly 15% of the so-called wheat gluten was actually melamine and cyanuric acid.  The amounts in Chinese infant formula were in the same ballpark, so it’s no wonder that so many babies got sick.  This is a huge scandal and clear indication that our food safety systems need a major fix.

Oct 19 2008

Melamine is in what?

Melamine-laden milk powder made in China has made its way into Chinese infant formula, of course, but is also turning up in candy in New Zealand, croissants in Japan, M&Ms in South Korea, and coffee drinks in the United States.  Now the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) warns that melamine has been found in something more exotic.  Would you believe chocolate-flavored “willy” syrup.  You don’t know what this is?  Consider it a caloric sex toy.   If you have used it already, the FSA says not to worry.  The melamine dose is too low to do harm.  Whew.

Thanks (I think) to blogger Doctor Yoni Freedhoff for passing this one along.


Oct 12 2008

More melamine numerology: China and Canada agree

The Wall Street Journal reports that China has new guidelines on allowable levels of melamine in foods: 1 ppm (mg/kg) in infant formula and 2.5 ppm in other foods.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency agrees and is requiring importers of foods from China to document that their products meet these standards.  According to the October 10 Food Chemical News (which I can’t link to), the number of infants affected by melamine-contaminated infant formula is nearly 94,000, with 30,000 cases in central Henan province and 16,000 in Hebei province, both near where the source of the problem, the Sanlu Dairy group, is located.

Oct 6 2008

Melamine: let’s do the math

The British Food Standards Agency has been checking on levels of melamine in sweets imported from China.  Some candies contained as much as 152 milligrams melamine per kilogram (mg/kg) or parts per million (ppm).  A kg is 2.2 pounds, which would be a lot of candy to eat.  Some of the tainted infant formula contained 2,500 mg/kg, but you only use a scoop (10 grams or so) to make up a bottle of infant formula, and that would contain 25 mg.

I realize that I am asking the wrong question – melamine should not be in food at all – but how much is safe to eat?  To follow this, you have to pay close attention to the difference between mg/kg melamine in food versus the amount per kg body weight.

The FDA says 2.5 mg/kg in food is unlikely to be harmful in anything other than infant formula.  The FDA’s May 2007 melamine risk assessment said 63 mg/kg body weight was safe for adults but it established a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) 100 times lower, or 0.63 mg/kg body weight per day.   The European TDI is even lower: 0.5 mg/kg body weight per day.  Using the European TDI, a person weighing 80 kg (176 pounds) could supposedly safely consume 40 mg melamine from food a day.   But a baby weighing 5 kg (12 pounds) drinking infant formula containing 25 mg melamine would be getting 5 mg/kg body weight with every bottle – ten times the European TDI.  And babies drink several bottles a day.   And if a by-product of melamine, cyanuric acid, is also present, kidney crystals can form at much lower concentrations.

All of this begs the question: how come it is there in the first place and what are the food safety agencies going to do about it? And when?  In the meantime, food companies should be testing anything with protein in it for melamine and it’s best to avoid eating foods made in places where they aren’t doing such testing.

Oct 4 2008

FDA issues melamine risk assessment

The FDA says melamine in food at or below a level of 2.5 ppm (mg/kg) is unlikely to be harmful–except in infant formula.  This seems reasonable; on a per kg body weight basis, this would be a very low dose.  But what about when it is mixed with its by-product, cyanuric acid?  Nobody has yet defined the lowest dose of melamine which, when mixed with cyanuric acid, does not form kidney-blocking crystals.  Melamine should not be in the food supply at all, and especially not in infant formula, under any circumstances

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