The contamination scandal has spiraled from milk powder for infants to other food categories that use milk powder as an ingredient. Chocolate and biscuits are understood to be the categories posing the most concern.
Although investigations are still underway, it is thought that melamine was added at milk collection depots to mask the fact that it had been watered down by giving the appearance of a good protein content. (Both melamine and protein have a high nitrogen content, and nitrogen is usually measured to establish protein levels).
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was asked to provide urgent scientific advice on the risks to European consumers by the European Commission of products containing milk or milk derivatives from China.
The tolerable daily intake (TDI) of melamine is 0.5mg per kg bodyweight. High levels are understood to cause kidney stones, and can ultimately result in kidney failure. The highest reported levels of melamine in Chinese infant formula are around 2500 mg per kg.
The risk assessor concluded that, in theory, children with a mean consumption of biscuits, milk toffee and chocolate made with milk powder containing the highest levels of melamine would not exceed the TDI.
However children with a high daily consumption of these products would exceed the TDI, it said.
“Children who consume both such biscuits and chocolate could potentially exceed the TDI by up to more than three times.”
As for adults, EFSA concluded that they would not exceed the TDI on consuming chocolates and biscuits, even in worst case scenarios.
EFSA came to its conclusions after developing exposure scenarios based on consumption figures. Mean consumption is defined as average daily consumption of the products, or the 50th percentile. High consumption would correspond to the 95 percentile of consumption.
A spokesperson for EFSA told FoodNavigator.com that the risk assessor had received the request for a risk assessment from the European Commission on Friday 19 September and released its scientific advice today.
“EFSA showed it can urgently respond when real and potential risks to the health of European consumers can occur,” she said.
She added, however, that it is important to remember that this was a theoretical exercise, “based on consumption scenarios of chocolate and biscuits in Europe in the hypothesis that these products could be produced with the contaminated milk”.
“EFSA’s work is not based on data on the presence of these products in Europe.”
Chocolate and biscuit concerns
The latest word from China indicates that almost 53000 children have been sickened by the contamination of milk powder, which first (and slowly) came to light in products made by Fonterra’s joint venture partner, Sanlu. There have been four reported deaths.
However according to CNN, more than 12 countries have now banned or recalled milk products originating from China.
White Rabbit Creamy Candies were found yesterday by the food safety authority for Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) to have “sufficiently high levels of melamines which may, in some individuals, cause health problems such as kidney stones if consumed in high quantities over a long period”.
FSANZ has asked wholesalers and importers to voluntarily withdraw the candies from shops further results of more tests, and has advised consumers not to eat them.
The product has been recalled in Hong Kong, and UK supermarket Tesco has also pulled them from their ethnic goods shelves, on the advice of the Food Standards Agency.
Both South Korea and Vietnam have imposed bans on the importation of Chinese milk and milk products.