A cheap industrial chemical at the heart of a massive food recall in China following its detection in infant milk powder, the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that sweets containing melamine at levels of 11.25mg/kg, 152mg/kg and 80 mg/kg respectively had been detected on the shelves.
"The product has been distributed to Chinese supermarkets and other independent retailers across the UK," said the FSA in a statement, adding that batches of 227g packs of White Rabbit Creamy Candies, manufactured by Guanshengyuan Food General Factory in China, are being withdrawn from sale and their destruction arranged by local authorities.
The alert from the FSA confirms that the UK has not escaped the wave of contaminated White Rabbit confectionery products sweeping over the globe, and comes just two days after the FSA notified the public about the Koala brand of biscuits from China, on sale in the UK, and found to contain low levels of melamine (4.98 mg/kg).
The recall of White Rabbit products follows notification from the European Commission that warned the EU-27 bloc to be on the alert for contaminated products manufactured by the Guanshengyuan Food General Factory that contain melamine, a chemical compound used to make plastics and glues, that can lead to kidney-related problems.
Further, the Commission warned last week that all products from China containing more than 15 per cent milk as an ingredient, or products where the percentage of milk content cannot be established, are currently subject to documentary, identity and physical checks, including laboratory analysis, to determine that any levels of melamine present in the product do not exceed 2.5 mg/kg.
The 2.5mg/kg figure has evolved during this current 'crisis' situation. A spokesperson at the European Commission explained to ConfectioneryNews.com that in a "non-crisis situation, Europe applies a Tolerated Daily Intake (TDI) for melamine of 0.5 mg/kg body weight" which stands at 30mg/kg for a person weighing 60kg.
While melamine is prohibited under European rules in food and feed, the TDI is established from the occurrence of melamine migrating from food packaging into food, "usually 1 or 2 mg/kg, it is very unlikely that more than 2.5mg/kg migrates from packaging into food," adds the spokesperson.
As such, the 2.5mg/kg figure stems from the notion that if levels of melamine exceed this number, "it may have been put there" by a manufacturer.
The highest reported levels of melamine in the recent Chinese infant formula scare have been around 2500 mg/kg.
Products impacted by the FSA's recall and destruction notification are White Rabbit Creamy Candies, 227g, with a best before date of 20 January 2010, and White Rabbit Creamy Candies, 227g, with a best before date of 20 May 2010.
In addition, the following product has been withdrawn on a precautionary basis: White Rabbit Creamy Candies, 454g, with a best before date of 20 May 2010.
The FSA explains that the affected sweets, made at the Guanshengyuan Food General Factory in China, were forwarded to the Heng Cheung Company in Hong Kong, who supplied them to the Dutch company Liroy, and then distributed to a number of premises in the UK.
The melamine contamination of biscuits and confectionery products has dovetailed from the discovery that milk powder produced by Chinese firm San Lu – 43 per cent-owned by New Zealand’s Fonterra group – contained more than 100 times the concentration of melamine that a small baby can tolerate.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that over 54,000 children have sought medical treatment in China after drinking melamine-contaminated infant formula, which can lead to kidney-related problems. Almost 12,900 are currently hospitalised, and four children have died.
A global recall phenomenon, mounting numbers of products contaminated by melamine are turning up all over the world. Leading chocolate manufacturer Cadbury said last week that, as a precautionary measure, it had recalled 11 Chinese-made products from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, while on Sunday Reuters reported that a Hong Kong laboratory found Cadbury Dairy Milk Cookies Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5kg, contained 6.9 parts per million (ppm) of melamine, and Cadbury Dairy Milk Hazelnut Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5 kg, had 56 ppm.