New techniques detect danger for the smallest consumers


By Sarah Fister Gale

The 2008 death of six infants in China due to melamine poisoning spurred international outrage and increasing concern about shortcomings in global food-safety monitoring strategies.

The melamine contamination occurred when milk producers in China attempted to up the protein value of watered-down products by adding the industrial chemical melamine to the milk supply. The contaminant ended up sickening hundreds of thousands of babies across the country. Within weeks, the toxin was identified in dozens of products, from infant formula and yogurt to candies and drink powders; and traces of melamine were found in goods sold as far away as Europe and the U.S.

The incident forced government agencies in China and around the world to re-evaluate their food testing regulations. And it set off a scramble to find a method that could quickly and accurately identify this potentially lethal chemical in the food supply.

Two U.S. teams responded with test methods that can quickly and effectively detect levels of melamine contamination in the milk supply.

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