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(not) understanding food risks September 26, 2008

Posted by Bradley in : Uncategorized , trackback

Reading the recent news about melamine contamination of foods produced in China, and remembering how friends with pets dealt with last year’s pet food melamine contamination problem, I wonder how worried to be. A story which began with problems in infant formula spread to other products made with milk as an ingredient. For example, White Rabbit candy, which, according to the Wikipedia entry has been marketed as a healthy product, is one of the products affected. In deciding how worried to be I would like some data on the risks. The FDA website has a reassuring press release. This morning, the Europa website’s press release page showed a release from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) with a link to a detailed statement assessing the risks (unfortunately, since I first saw the press release it has been pushed off the front page by other news). I’d far rather have details than platitudes, even where the details don’t in the end help me very much.

The FDA announced:

The FDA has taken, and will continue to take, proactive measures to help ensure the safety of the American food supply. In conjunction with state and local officials, the FDA will continue to check Asian markets for food items that are imported from China and that could contain a significant amount of milk or milk proteins. In addition, the FDA has broadened its domestic and import sampling and testing of milk-derived ingredients and finished food products containing milk, such as candies, desserts, and beverages that could contain these ingredients from Chinese sources. Milk-derived ingredients include whole milk powder, non-fat milk powder, whey powder, lactose powder, and casein.

The EU Commission asked the EFSA to assess the risks to consumers, which it did in a 10 page statement, which states:

Even if for the time being there is no evidence that food products containing melamine have been imported into the EU, it is appropriate to assess, based on the information provided as regards the presence of melamine in milk and milk products,
the possible (worst case) exposure of the European consumer from the consumption of composite food products such as biscuits and confectionary (in particular chocolate) containing or made from milk and milk products containing melamine.

EFSA’s conclusion:

In worst case scenarios, children eating products with the highest melamine contamination level reported at the 95th percentile level either as biscuits or confectionary could exceed the TDI of 0.5 mg/kg bodyweight on individual occasions. If consuming both chocolate and biscuits there is the potential for children to exceed the TDI by more than three times. It should be remembered that the dietary exposure calculation involving quality filled biscuits might be a gross overestimation of the actual situation since there is no indication that China exports such products to Europe, but it can not be completely excluded. The chocolate scenario is considered more realistic.


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