FDA to test food ingredients for melamine
to inspect food manufacturing facilities and test protein
ingredients following the recent news that the chemical melamine
may have entered the human food chain.
In a letter to industry, the agency said that food manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products, and should not wait for possible FDA testing to implement safety measures. The food regulatory agency urged manufacturers to make sure they have procedures in place that ensure the safety of the ingredients in their products, as well as the packaging and processing supplies they use. Manufacturers were also told they should verify that their suppliers have such procedures in place. The announcement comes in the wake of a contamination scare after hogs and chickens meant for human consumption were fed pet foods thought to contain melamine. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), pet food made with contaminated wheat gluten from China was mixed into feed used on 30 broiler chicken farms in Indiana. About 3m chickens fed the feed have all been processed and sold on the market. Melamine is a chemical compound used in a number of commercial and industrial applications. The US has banned its use as an ingredient in animal and human foods. It has limited authorization for use in contact materials such as packaging for human food. The FDA said it has no evidence that humans have suffered any health problems after eating the processed products made from the hogs and poultry. In its letter to industry last week, the agency said it has issued a protein ingredient surveillance assignment. As part of this assignment, FDA, in conjunction with state regulatory authorities, will inspect various food and feed facilities. They will also carry out tests to ascertain the presence of melamine in a variety of protein ingredients and finished products containing such ingredients. FDA said it initiated this assignment to help ensure the safety of the US food supply. The assignment is designed to supplement melamine testing already conducted by FDA. The protein concentrates being tested currently include wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, and rice protein concentrate. In coming weeks, testing is expected to expand to include additional types of protein concentrates and finished products. FDA said it will collect samples primarily during inspections of domestic food manufacturers or, in the case of imports, at the point of entry. The samples will be analyzed at a variety of laboratories that are part of the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN). In April, melamine contamination was linked to an outbreak of cat and dog deaths and illness associated with pet food manufactured with vegetable proteins from China. About 18 pet food manufacturers and others have recalled dog and cat food and other suspect products and ingredients. The FDA noted that it had collected about 750 samples of wheat gluten and products made with wheat gluten. Out of these, 330 tested positive for melamine or melamine related compounds. Of the 85 samples of rice protein concentrate and products made with the ingredient, 27 tested positive. All the ingredients were imported from China. China has since banned its food exporters from using melamine. The findings could potentially further raise consumer fears over the safety of the food chain, even as Congress is examining whether the FDA failed to prevent recent contamination outbreaks linked to spinach and lettuce. FDA advice on how to ensure that food ingredients and food products are safe for human consumption can be found here. Companies interested in performing their own tests for melamine, can access the methodology used by the FERN laboratories here.