September 30, 2008

Heinz to Stop Using China Milk in Far East Products

By Rick Stouffer

The H.J. Heinz Co. today announced it no longer is using China- produced milk, hoping to eliminate any perception that its Far East products are in any way contaminated with the chemical melamine.

The Heinz announcement comes as British candy make Cadbury announced it's recalling 11 types of Chinese-made chocolates found to contain the chemical, and competitors Hershey and Mars publicly stated their candy is safe.

"In order to reassure consumers about the safety of Heinz products, Heinz has made the strategic decision to switch our milk supply in China and Hong Kong to non-Chinese sources, and we are testing all dairy ingredients for melamine prior to use in our factories," said spokesman Michael Mullen.

Last week Heinz recalled 270 cases of its China-produced Heinz Intelligence Vegetable Cereal in Hong Kong due to trace levels of melamine being found in it.

Melamine, used to make plastics and fertilizer has been found in certain milk products in China and has been blamed for four infant deaths and more than 53,000 Chinese children getting sick. The chemical makes the protein content in diluted milk appear higher than it is.

A Cadbury spokesman said it was too early to say how much melamine was in the company's chocolates made at its Beijing plant, but added the facility only supplied Australia, Taiwan, Nauru, Hong Kong and Christmas Island.

Hershey said today it has never purchased milk ingredients, including powdered milk, from China, while Mars North America said in a statement that its Chinese operations don't get any ingredients from companies found to be selling melamine-contaminated dairy products.

While the amount of melamine found in the China-manufactured Heinz cereal was a fraction of the amounts found in the Chinese milk, Hong Kong authorities recently set melamine limits for children under three years old, with the Heinz trace levels over the limit.

The recall was a precautionary measure performed in cooperation with Hong Kong authorities, Heinz said.

"Heinz is confident this product is safe to consumer," Mullen said. "The levels detected in the product are more than 25 times lower than internationally accepted safety levels."

Mullen said babies on average eat half a 200-gram cereal pack a day. At the levels of melamine found in the product, a baby would have to consume more than 12 packs daily to exceed European Food Safety Authority levels. He added that half of the affected product already has been returned to Heinz. None of the cereal is sold in the U.S.

China's scandal over milk and other foods tainted with melamine has spread as Japan along with Hong Kong said they detected the industrial chemical in Chinese-made products. Taiwan reported three young children with kidney stones in the island's first cases possibly linked to the melamine situation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(c) 2008 Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.