WASHINGTON (AP) -- Eating a tiny bit of a melamine, the chemical responsible for a global food safety scare, is not harmful except when it's in baby formula, U.S. food safety officials said Friday.
Tainted White Rabbit candy has turned up in several U.S. states.
Melamine-tainted formula has sickened more than 54,000 children in China and is being blamed for the deaths of at least four tots. The chemical has also turned up in products sold across Asia, ranging from candies, to chocolates, to coffee drinks, that used dairy ingredients from China. Authorities in California and Connecticut have found melamine in White Rabbit candies imported from China.
But infant formula made in the U.S. is safe, because manufacturers do not use any ingredients from China.
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that its safety experts have concluded that eating a very tiny amount of melamine -- 2.5 parts per million -- would not raise health concerns, even if a person ate food that was tainted with the chemical every day.
Separately, a New Jersey company announced a recall of Chinese-made yogurt drinks Friday after FDA testing found melamine. The Blue Cat Flavor Drink, also called Lanmao, is sold nationwide in Asian groceries, said a spokesman for the company, Tristar Food Wholesale of Jersey City.
More U.S. recalls involving melamine can be expected as product testing continues, particularly in Asian groceries around the country, FDA officials said.
FDA officials stressed that the melamine safety assessment the agency issued Friday does not mean U.S. authorities will condone foods deliberately spiked with the chemical. The 2.5 parts-per-million standard is meant to address situations in which the chemical accidentally comes into contact with food, such as in cases where it is used for industrial purposes in a factory that makes food products.
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"If products are adulterated because they contain melamine, (authorities) will take appropriate actions to prevent the products from entering commerce," the FDA said in a statement. The agency said it was setting the 2.5 parts-per-million standard to address situations in which the chemical accidentally comes into contact with , such as in cases where it is used for industrial purposes in a factory that makes food products.
Officials also stressed that infant formula sold to U.S. consumers must be completely free of melamine.
"There is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern," the FDA said.
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In China, unscrupulous suppliers appear to have been adding melamine to make watered-down milk seem protein-rich in quality-control tests. That's because melamine is high in nitrogen, as is protein.
Melamine first came to the attention of U.S. consumers last year, when it touched off a massive pet food recall. Chinese suppliers of bulk pet food ingredients were found to have been adding the chemical to artificially boost the protein readings of their products. Thousands of pets here were sickened, and hundreds are believed to have died.
Melamine is harmful to the kidneys. It can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it, and in extreme cases, life-threatening kidney failure.
"If products are adulterated because they contain melamine, (authorities) will take appropriate actions to prevent the products from entering commerce," the FDA said in a statement.
Friday's recall of Blue Cat yogurt drinks covers as many as 166,000 bottles, a little more than 3 ounces each, the company said. The drinks come in several fruit flavors, including strawberry, orange, pineapple and peach. Consumers who have bought the drinks should discard them. No illnesses have been reported