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Sep 26, 2008 06:15 AM

Melamine - what it is and why it was used in food

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  1. My understanding, from the dog food melamine incident, is that certain mixtures and ingredients have to have a particular protein content to be included in the food item. So a lab test is called for. The test for protein is not a direct test ... instead, the protein content is calculated from a test for certain nitrogen-containing compounds in the ingredient. (Protein being a nitrogen-containing compound.) Unscrupulous dealers who knew their poor-quality ingredient was too low in protein figured out that they could boost their lab-tested nitrogen content by adding non-food, cheap melamine to the ingredient and thus pass the test and sell it to the food producer. In small amounts, melamine isn't a problem, so these guys probably got away with it for a while. But as we saw with the dog food, some of these guys were putting hefty quantities of the adulterant in there, and then the puppies started dying.

    I believe in normal practice, melamine is used in plastics manufacturing.

    8 Replies
    1. re: k_d

      Exactly, k_d. Replace food content with plastic to keep the weight of the product the same, pay off those who inspect for such atrocities, get the U.S. to buy it at the usual price, and then act shocked! when the horror is found out.

      1. re: dolores

        Well actually, dolores, the thing about this scheme is that you hardly have to pay anyone off. The protein test (actually nitrogen test) does not tell you where the nitrogen is coming from ... just that what the level is. So your low-protein ingredient appears to be much higher in protein (because it was higher in nitrogen). It's not really a plastic. It's one of the components you use to make plastic objects, so it would look like flour or starch or other common food ingredient.

        1. re: k_d

          That is interesting info, k_d, but I had been monitoring the situation long before the press broke it, and, thankfully, had been warned away from the food that contained the melamine.

          UNTIL many dogs started dying, those who could do something about it were not. Hence, to my mind, the payola.

          Money talks, nobody walks. That's life.

      2. re: k_d

        yes, the article says that melamine is used in manufacturing plastics: "Melamine is a white powder used in plastic-making. It was first synthesised by a German scientist in the 1830s."

        1. re: alkapal

          I believe melamine is what makes Mel-mac and other similar plastic dinnerware ( like "corelle livingware") less likely to shatter or chip. I wouldn't let my dog eat any Mel-mac if I were you....

          1. re: adamshoe

            Why not? Is there any evidence that melamine is ingested when eating from plastics made with it? Both the pet food problem, and this recent milk one, are the result of producers adding the melamine powder to food items. Don't confuse the two uses.

            Many of us grew up eating from melamine plates, and did not develop the kinds of kidney problems that these pets and babies did. I've had kidney stones, but they have nothing to do with melamine.

            1. re: paulj

              adamshoe said "eat any Melmac", not "eat FROM any Melmac"

              1. re: coney with everything

                oops, missed that difference. What came to mind were plastic food bowls. My dog may lick the bowl clean, but hasn't shown any inclination to chew it. He's not even a big fan of chew toys.

                I suspect that even if a dog did gnaw on a plastic item like this, the crumbs would pass through his system, without any the melamine being absorbed.

        1. re: jfood

          It makes me wonder whether some of the instant coffee mixes from other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia might so be contaminated.

          1. re: jfood

            "As of Thursday, FDA testing of milk-based products imported into the United States from China had not found any melamine contamination, an agency statement said."
            having worked in investigations involving fda and its shoddy bureaucratic practices, i take zero, zilch, nada comfort from this grossly misleading statement -- AS IF fda had tested more than minuscule amounts of imports.......

   "Additionally, FDA is sampling and testing milk and milk-derived ingredients and finished food products 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."

            1. re: alkapal

              Note that while the FDA is sampling many products that may have milk from Chinese sources, there is no report, yet, that they have found problems.

              1. re: alkapal

                you are giving the FDA too much credit with zero zilch and nada.

                1. re: jfood

                  Indeed, they are sorely underfunded and I think their current mission statement is to let the invisible hand of the free market determine where the bad actors are. You know, like when people or animals get sick, the market will work its magic and the company will find itself financially harmed. Too bad that babies or dogs have to die first for this to happen, isn't it...

                  1. re: coney with everything

                    fraud is not an acceptable factor in the legitimate free market. it is criminal behavior and should be punished as such.

                    i understand that one individual in china was executed for --- iirc -- the pet food contamination (or was it the heparin?) <gee, so many freakin' chinese adulteration scandals, so little time.>

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Scapegoat. The entire system is corrupt. Its going to be tough to really eradicate the corruption.

            2. I'm starting to look twice at the canned gluten ("mock duck," seitan) we use, especially that from Taiwan. Anyone have any info on "protein" loading with this product? Cay

              2 Replies
              1. re: cayjohan

                When I last bought a can of seitan, I checked the country of origin. Since it was Taiwan I figured it was safe, reasoning that it was more likely to be made from local gluten sources than imports from China. Given the well known pet food problems last year, even Chinese sources of gluten are safer now - it would be foolhardy for a company to accept such gluten without testing it for melamine.

                new article on food testing in Taiwan:
                and an explanation of what is melamine

                1. re: paulj

                  Taiwan is in upheavals now because they import so much food stuff from China, just like everyone else. They are finding melamine in a whole lot of imports, not just powdered milk. My family has taken to buying stuff made by Taiwanese companies in the US, not sure this is effective or not.

              2. this u.k. article intimates that chocolate bars made with chinese milk powder are also a potential hazard.

                our labeling laws should be changed to require full disclosure of country of origin -- most markedly pertaining to KNOWN purveyors of deadly ingredients, like our esteemed trading "partner" the "people's" republic of china.

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Thank You for the warning Jefferson Airplane

                    1. re: jfood

                      "one pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small, some milk/heparin/dog food from china, you have no kidneys at all...." <with feeling>