World's food safety labs ready to detect melamine

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By Mike Stones, 14-May-2009

Most laboratories worldwide are capable of detecting melamine in food, according to a new study by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).

Levels of the harmful substance in food samples were measured accurately by more than 70 per cent of the laboratories taking part in the study. The results suggest that the global response to last year’s contaminated milk scandal in China has been effective, according to JRC.

74 per cent of the laboratories detected melamine in samples of milk powder while 73 per cent identified the contaminant in sample baking mix within the acceptable range defined by common international measurement guidelines.

EU legislation

"This study is one of the first and largest snapshots of labs' abilities to accurately measure melamine in food, and it confirms that the majority of labs are up to the job,” said Dr Alejandro Herrero, director of the JRC's Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM). “It shows that food laboratories in the EU and their counterparts around the globe are able to accurately detect melamine in food. This is a pre-requisite for enforcing the limits set in EU legislation to protect consumers."

Prepared samples of contaminated milk powder and baking mix were sent to the laboratories without revealing the known levels of melamine present. The laboratories measured the melamine content of the blind samples and reported their results to JRC.

The results were reported with values of measurement uncertainty considered to be of key importance when measuring close to a legal limit. Here, the JRC report identified room for improvement with about a quarter of the uncertainty values being underestimated – 23 per cent for milk powder and 22 per cent for baking mix.

Mass spectrometry

After assessing the results of the study, JRC researchers concluded that isotope dilution mass spectrometry with a stable isotope labeled melamine was more accurate than other detection issues.

114 laboratories from 31 countries around the world agreed to measure the accuracy of their tests to detect the presence of melamine in food. Participating countries included Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, US and 21 of the 27 EU member states.

The study, requested by the EU’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection, was organised and carried out by the JRC.

Although the EU does not import milk or other dairy products from China, processed food such as chocolates or biscuits might contain contaminated milk powder. “The European Commission therefore decided that food or feed containing milk products originating in - or transported from – China should be checked. Any product containing more than 2.5 mg/kg melamine must be destroyed,” confirmed the report.



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