US steps up inspections to keep out tainted milk

(Associated Press, DC)

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR


Although no trace of infant formula from China has turned up in this country, U.S. authorities said Friday they are taking added precautions to keep out tainted milk products.

 

The Food and Drug Administration has widened its inspections at ports of entry to focus on shipments of bulk food ingredients from Asia that are derived from milk, such as milk concentrate and whole milk powder. Spokeswoman Judy Leon also said the agency will issue an alert this weekend warning consumers not to buy milk products from China on the Internet.

 

The latest food safety scandal in China began with infant formula, but it now turns out that products ranging from bottled milk to yogurt also appear to have been adulterated with melamine, a chemical that in lab tests can make watered-down milk seem protein-rich. More than 6,000 Chinese children have taken ill with kidney problems after being fed contaminated formula, and at least four have died.

 

Melamine, which is used to make plastics, is the same chemical involved in last year's massive pet food recall. In that case, it had been added to bulk pet food ingredients imported from China. But an ongoing national investigation focusing on Asian community markets has turned up no infant formula from China here.

 

"In conjunction with state and local authorities, we have inspected more than 1,000 retail outlets and have found not one single can of Chinese infant formula," said Leon.

 

Nonetheless, the agency plans to issue an advisory Saturday warning consumers not to buy milk products from China on the Internet. "We know it's possible to purchase Chinese products on the Internet, and we want to make sure people do not purchase infant formula or any product containing milk or milk derivatives," said Leon.

 

Infant formula is closely regulated here, and no Chinese companies have approval to export to the United States. China is an importer of milk, and so it's also unlikely that any milk products from China would turn up in this country.

 

Nonetheless, Leon said the FDA is sampling bulk shipments of milk-derived products from Asia for possible contamination with melamine or other banned ingredients. The products being tested include whole milk powder, whey powder, milk concentrate, lactose, casein protein, and other milk derivatives. 9-19-08

 

 

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