Food Protection Connection: Melamine & More
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FDA Statement — Melamine:
National Toxicology Program. Since You Asked — Bisphenol A: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/media
(reprinted from Dietary Manager, November/December 2008)
Chemical Safety Concerns
A massive foodborne illness outbreak in China has had ripple effects throughout the world, and underscores the intricate global nature of our food supply today. As of late September 2008, authorities were reporting four infant deaths and 53,000 illnesses among children in China stemming from the illegal use of melamine in milk and formula products.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer. It is not approved as a food ingredient. However, it has been illegally added to products to falsely boost protein readings. Melamine was the ingredient of concern in the pet food scandal of 2007, when its presence caused illnesses and deaths. Ingesting large amounts of melamine can lead to kidney stones. (See Food Protection Connection, July/August 2007).
In the recent outbreak in China, melamine was found in infant formula. Authorities recalled more than 7,000 metric tons of contaminated powdered and liquid milk products sold by 22 Chinese producers.
In response, the European Union banned imports of dairy foods from China in late September. The FDA beefed up inspections of food imported from China in the wake of the illnesses in Asia, checking specifically products containing whole milk powder, whey powder, milk concentrate, lactose, casein protein, and other milk derivatives. FDA said it was also sampling and testing finished food products containing milk, such as candies, desserts and beverages, which could contain these ingredients from Chinese sources.
On September 28, 2008, the FDA advised consumers and foodservice operators not to consume or serve some Taiwanese instant coffee and tea products found to be contaminated because they used non-dairy creamer ingredients manufactured in China. The seven products all carried a label of "Mr. Brown."
New Zealand health authorities found high melamine levels in a candy product called White Rabbit Creamy Candies. Food companies responded as well. H. J. Heinz Co. announced a recall of 270 cases of baby food in Hong Kong and has reported performing extensive testing on its products to ensure no contamination. According to MSN, Pizza Hut halted supplies of cheese powder imported from China found to contain melamine. In September, FDA officials also announced they were checking for melaminecontaminated products in Asian markets throughout the US for any sources of concern.
What Happens in China Does Not Stay in China
As the world’s largest agricultural producer, China plays a significant role in food safety around the world. Our global food supply relies on liberal traffic of food products around the world, as well as sourcing of individual ingredients for food manufacturing.
The New York Times reported in 2007 (June 17, 2007) that more than 100 countries, including China, India, the Philippines and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, provide individual ingredients for foods manufactured in the US. Corporate buyers are charged with finding the best ingredients at the best prices, and vetting safety requirements.
What does this mean for you as a dietary manager? Today more than ever before, dietary departments do not operate in a vacuum. It is crucial to recognize that food safety is a complex farm-to-fork endeavor with many players. To ensure safety of your own clients, you can stay abreast of food safety news, and maintain regular dialogue with your suppliers, whom you can expect to be keeping abreast of news and safety initiatives as well. The FDA website (www.fda.gov) typically features an “update” section on major concerns. You can also sign up for email alerts about recalls on the FDA site.
More News BPA
A focus on chemical hazards in food raises another news
story from September 2008, about Bisphenol A (BPA). Although
not a food ingredient and certainly not the subject
of recalls, BPA is under scrutiny right now. BPA is a chemical
used in manufacturing food containers, namely plastics
with the recycled "7" designation, as well as linings of
some food cans, soft drink cans, and other packages, as
well as in baby bottles and sippy cups.
Because it is a food-contact substance, small amounts can enter food, and scientists have looked closely at its safety. Researchers reporting in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Sept. 17, 2008) concluded that urinary concentration of BPA was associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and elevated liver enzymes.
BPA is widely used, according to the National Toxicology Program (part of the National Institutes of Health), and has been the subject of extensive safety research. CDC research indicates that 93 percent of Americans six and older have detectable BPA levels in the urine, meaning that we have been exposed to the chemical and have some amount in our bodies. The Toxicology Program experts rank fetuses, infants, and children, relatively, as the population most at risk for any possible adverse effects.
While the final answers are not yet in, National Toxicology Program experts offer these suggestions for anyone who wishes to reduce exposure to BPA:
- Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers, which are usually marked with a #7 recycling code. (Microwaving releases more BPA.)
- Reduce use of canned foods.
- As possible, use glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers, especially for hot food or liquids.
- Use baby bottles that are BPA-free.
Some retailers, such as Wal-Mart, have already announced plans to eliminate BPA-containing baby bottles from their shelves. (Washington Post, April 18, 2008). We can expect to see more BPA-related news over coming months as scientists continue to investigate and evaluate safety.
Sue Grossbauer, RD, author of several books, and a regular contributor to DIETARY MANAGER magazine.