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FSIS checking retail stores for melamine

January 1, 2009
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Because of the numerous incidents of melamine contaminations reported in North America by Canada’s CFIA and the US FDA and USDA, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) decided to conduct random testing of meat and poultry products in the US  with samples obtained directly from retail shelves. Notice was sent to investigators from the Compliance and Investigations Division (CID) and Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement and Review (OPEER), instructing them how to collect these samples.

According to FSIS, melamine and its three analogues, cyanuric acid, ammelide and ammeline referred to as melamine compounds (MC), are found in foods because of industrial environmental contamination; alleged fraudulent addition of industrial MC to foods; and its production as a metabolite of cyromazine, which is used as an insecticide. Mixtures of industrial source MC, most notably melamine and cyanuric acid, are more toxic than melamine alone. MC may be ubiquitous in nature at low levels because of its wide use.

FDA’s CFSAN estimates the average cumulative dietary concentration of melamine from approved food uses would be less than 0.015 ppm, but FDA hasn’t yet intended this to be an estimate of the acceptable maximum level of melamine. FDA established in its recent safety/risk assessment that in all foods except infant formula, levels of MC below 2.5 ppm do not raise public health concerns. For infant formula, FDA set the maximum at 1 ppm.

FSIS’s samplings will focus on meat and poultry products that contain milk-delivered ingredients such as non-fat dried milk, casein, whey, evaporated milk and milk powder. Specific retail products to undergo scrutiny include baby food (containing a significant amount of meat and poultry products), cooked sausages (including hot dogs and frankfurters with and without cheese), breaded chicken, meatballs and meat and poultry wrapped in dough and pizza.

Should a processor decide to test its own products for any of the MCs, there are a number of laboratories that can perform the necessary tests. One lab suggested that the purchase of chromatographic equipment sensitive enough to test for the low levels required by FDA and FSIS would range from roughly $300,000 to $400,000. Sending samples to a lab costs about $150, depending on the number of samples tested. An alternative would be to demand certifiable test results for MC levels in incoming supplier ingredients.

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