Background: A major food safety incident in China was made public in September 2008. Kidney and urinary tract effects, including kidney stones, affected about 300,000 Chinese infants and young children, with six reported deaths. Melamine had been deliberately added at milk-collecting stations to diluted raw milk ostensibly to boost its protein content. Subsequently, melamine has been detected in many milk and milk-containing products, as well as other food and feed products, which were also exported to many countries worldwide.
Objectives: The melamine event represents one of the largest deliberate food contamination incidents. We provide a description and analysis of this event to determine the global implications on food and feed safety.
Discussions: A series of factors, including the intentional character of the milk contamination, the young age of the population affected, the large number of potentially contaminated products, the global distribution of these products, and the delay in reporting led this event to take on unexpected proportions. This incident illustrated the complexity of international trade of food products and food ingredients that required immediate actions at international level.
Conclusion: Managing food-safety events should be done internationally and early on as soon as multinational consequences are expected. Collaboration between food-safety authorities worldwide is needed to efficiently exchange information and to enable tracking and recalling of affected products to ensure food safety and to protect public health.
Keywords: World Health Organization; food safety; infant formula; kidney stones; melamine; milk powder; renal failure; risk assessment.