October 1, 2008

Heinz Stops Use of Chinese Milk in Products

By Rick Stouffer

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

The Heinz announcement occurred as British candy maker Cadbury announced a recall of 11 types of Chinese-made chocolates found to contain the chemical, and competitors Kraft Foods, the maker of Oreo cookies, and Mars, the maker of M&Ms and Snickers candy, publicly stated their candy is safe.

The Food and Drug Administration last week alerted consumers that seven Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products are being recalled by its Taiwanese manufacturer due to possible melamine contamination. The agency is advising retailers and food service operators to remove the products from sale or service.

An FDA spokeswoman said yesterday that testing has not found any other cases of melamine-contaminated products in the United States.

"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.

"Shipments containing milk-derived ingredients and products from Chinese sources are being stopped at the ports, and are not being released until the FDA tests are complete," said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek. "FDA inspectors are also collecting samples of products from retail markets and are testing them."

The FDA said its New Zealand counterpart, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, reported finding high levels of melamine in White Rabbit Creamy Candies, imported from China by QFCO Inc. of Burlingame, Calif.

The candy had been distributed in the states of California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. As of Friday, the FDA wasn't aware of any illnesses in the United States stemming from consumption of either White Rabbit Creamy Candy or Mr. Brown instant coffee and tea products, the agency said.

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 yesterday 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 3 years old, with the Heinz trace levels over the limit.

Last week's 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 United States.

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