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The Science Behind Producing Safer Infant Formula

November 06, 2014

The Science Behind Producing Safer Infant Formula

With more than 29 million children under three in China, infant formula is big business, second only to the U.S. in scale. And population experts there estimate the number of infants and toddlers will grow at an annual rate of more than 4 percent. Yet despite this phenomenal growth, relatively few Chinese dairies have benefited from an increased demand for milk powder used in infant formula.

In 2008 melamine, a metabolized version of the pesticide cyromazine, found its way into Chinese infant formula sickening more than 300,000 children and killing six. The scandal forced new standards in screening milk powder in China and severely damaged trust in Chinese-produced infant formula. One notable exception, however, is Wandashan Dairy.

How the Melamine Milk Scandal Impacted the Infant Formula Supply Chain

Infant formula commonly contains purified cow's milk whey and casein as a protein source, along with a blend of other ingredients intended to mimic the nutritional benefits of human milk. In 2008, hundreds of thousands of infants developed kidney stones after they consumed food and infant formula that had been contaminated with melamine. Six children died, and 20 percent of companies tested had products that were tainted by melamine.

"When the melamine contamination was first discovered, Wandashan was one of the few brands that retained public trust, thanks largely to screening practices they had already put in place."

Melamine is used to manufacture melamine-formaldehyde resin, a type of plastic known for its flame retardant properties and commonly employed in countertops, dry erase boards, etc. Melamine itself is nitrogen-rich and has been an adulterant for feedstock and milk for several years because it can make diluted or poor quality material appear to be higher in protein content by elevating the total nitrogen content detected by some simple protein tests. Melamine has also been used as an adulterant in infant milk powder to raise its apparent protein content and meet regulatory considerations, according to the World Health Organization. Wandashan’s Quality Control Center uses PerkinElmer’s Series 200 Liquid Chromatography system to test for nutriments and an AAnalyst 700 atomic absorption spectrometer for heavy metal detection in the ingredients used in their infant formula.

The New Chinese Infant Formula Milk Powder Standards

In 2010, the Chinese government introduced 66 new mandatory food security GB standards in an effort to improve public trust in local dairy products. The new standards require all dairy companies to screen all of their products for 49 different contaminants ranging from heavy metals to nutriments.

According to FDA regulations, all ingredients in infant formula milk powder must be recognized as safe or be verifiable safe food additives. Manufacturers have to declare that all additives and ingredients are safe and comply with national standards.

Environmental concerns have also become a larger issue. During a compulsory detection process, heavy metals, pesticide residue, and other dangerous contaminants must be screened out. Companies often rely on gas chromatograph or mass spectroscopy technology to do this.

Specialty Products for Milk Powder Screening

After the melamine incident illuminated the importance of detection against food adulteration, PerkinElmer introduced the DairyGuard Milk Powder Analyzer, based on a near-infrared spectroscopy platform, for dairy companies. The analyzer uses advanced algorithms to screen in under 30 seconds for adulterants and other threats to the safety of milk powder.

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