Should You Worry About Melamine in Your Food?

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If you’ve been following the tainted pet food scandal, you’ve probably heard that some human food products are now suspect. Are people at risk from the pet-food fallout? Let’s review the information we have and see.

 On March 16, 2007, a manufacturer called Menu Foods issued a recall on some of its pet food. The cat and dog food, sold under several different brand names by different companies, was voluntarily withdrawn by several of them. As you’ve probably heard, there were reports of cats and dogs getting sick and even dying.

 When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated, it found that samples of the food contained some stuff called “melamine.” Melamine is a chemical substance used in industrial products, such as fire retardants and pesticides. It’s most likely that the chemical made its way into the food via “wheat gluten.” Wheat gluten, a product of wheat, is a common ingredient in many pet and people foods. In this case, the wheat came from a producer in China, where they use pesticides not approved in North America. That’s probably where the melamine came into the picture.

 Later on, the chemical was also found in rice protein concentrate imported from China and used in pet food made by five other manufacturers, prompting even more recalls.

 Not a lot is known about how melamine affects the body. The recent FDA tests did show a definite link between the animals that died and the melamine they ate. The chemical seemed to cause kidney damage. But more research is being done. After the pet-food fiasco began, concerns about melamine in people food started to arise. This has prompted questions on whether eating animal products fed with stuff containing this chemical can cause damage in the human body.

 Last month, it was discovered that some pigs and chickens had been fed some of the melamine-contaminated pet food. But since the farm animals were only fed a small portion of the contaminated food, it’s not considered a major problem. The affected animals were quarantined, but have shown no signs of illness themselves. When tested, they had very low levels of melamine, so any of those animals that have already entered the food chain are not considered dangerous.

 Furthermore, there have been no reported cases of human illness from eating tainted pork or chicken. After investigating in conjunction with several other government agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FDA has labeled the risk to humans from the melamine-fed pigs or chickens as extremely low. Even if all you ate all day was pork containing the chemical, your risk for health problems would be 250 times lower than the level accepted as safe. And we’re talking A LOT of meat here, way more than you could eat.

 More recently, a Canadian fish-feed producer recalled its products. These are supplied to fisheries and fish hatcheries in Canada and the U.S. Some of the fish food is believe to contain melamine. Any fish that might have been fed these products are being held and tested. Currently, the FDA tags the risk to humans from eating fish that have consumed melamine-tainted food as very low. Stay tuned for further information, as the investigation into possibly tainted fish continues.

 In an update just released, it was reported that the USDA has given the go-ahead for the pigs that were being held in quarantine to be released into production. Even though it’s already considered pretty safe, the meat from these animals will go through testing for melamine levels before processing. The chickens that ate melamine-tainted feed are still being held in quarantine. An approved test for melamine for poultry meat is expected to come out shortly.

 The FDA and USDA are not letting this situation slide. The melamine investigations are ongoing. Stay updated and stay safe!