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Milk is one of the finest sources of essential nutrients for newborns and adults. The adulteration of milk is a significant problem everywhere in the globe. The deliberate addition of anything to increase milk quantity is called adulteration of milk. The basic purpose of milk adulteration is to get illegal profit. Major reasons for milk adulteration with melamine are;

·      To increase the protein content of milk

·      The large disparity between supply and demand

·      The less shelf life of milk

·       The low purchasing power of consumers

·      And the lack of effective techniques for detecting milk quality

What is melamine?

Milk is supplemented with melamine to boost the protein content for a lower price. It is a nitrogen-rich molecule also called tripolycyanamide (C3H6N6). Melamine raises the level of nitrogen content in milk, which in turn purposes the false rise in protein levels.

Although melamine causes less acute oral toxicity, excessive exposure can lead to kidney stones in humans. Newborns and young children are most affected by melamine in milk. Melamine is used in the manufacturing of adhesives, laminations, plastics, paints, and fertilizers. Melamine is hazardous if ingested, breathed, or absorbed by the skin.  It interacts with cyanuric acid to induce health problems related to the kidney and urinary system. It even causes newborn mortality.

The detrimental effects of melamine intensify by combining with cyanuric acid. According to the FDA, both of these concentrate in the blood and produce a significant amount of rounded, yellow crystals. These crystals obstruct and harm the renal cells.

Melamine contamination scandal in China

The Shanghai Daily published an article on September 9, 2008, that a certain powdered milk formula had caused kidney stones in fourteen babies from Gansu. It seems that formula milk businesses started receiving complaints from customers in December of 2007. These complaints were about the discolored urine of affected babies who consumed tainted milk powder. The first child passed away in May 2008. According to the State Council of China, 1 fatality and 432 cases were reported till September 12, 2008.

An investigative report suggested that melamine-contaminated milk and milk products were sold by twenty-two companies. Melamine levels in Sanlu products were found to be as high as 2,560 mg/kg. Two more companies were shipping melamine-contaminated powdered milk to Yemen, Bangladesh, Burundi, Myanmar, and many other countries. On September 17, 2008, the Veterinary and Agri-Food Authority of Singapore published findings of melamine in Chinese milk and milk products for the first time outside of China. In September 2008, the administrative department of the Hong Kong government revealed that a 3 years-old child had kidney stones after using tainted milk.

The milk contaminated with melamine caused the poisoning of almost 290,000 individuals, most of whom were infants. The contaminated milk powder caused the death of six infants. Millions of parents continue to live with the anxiety that their kids may experience long-term health issues. It accounts for the additional costs associated with seeking medical care for babies. This incident also leads to the additional costs incurred by parents who frantically looked for significantly more costly imported milk products. A short time later, melamine was discovered in frozen desserts, cereal items, powdered milk, biscuits, candy, and cakes. Melamine was also found in protein powders and several processed meals. Later, it was discovered that many non-dairy items coming from China were melamine-tainted.

Detrimental health impacts of melamine in milk

Melamine is not allowed to be used in any human or animal food preparation, despite being a component of adhesives, flame retardants, and plastics. However, as noted above, it was utilized as an illegal addition.

Melamine can be found in food at low concentrations since it is used legally in poultry and cattle feeds as well as food packaging products. Melamine is detrimental for babies, who therefore experience growth retardation, the development of kidney failure, and the formation of urinary stones. This early-life melamine toxicity raises the risk of undetermined longer-term effects.

However, there is proof that individuals who get a low level of melamine exposure suffer kidney damage at a later age. Based on animal experimental research, there are hazards for neoplastic illness, notably of the renal system. Even at modest concentrations, consuming melamine causes cancers in the urinary system. As a result, adult life may be associated with a higher incidence of urinary malignancies. Children who have been exposed to melamine-contaminated milk powder may thus require lifetime screening for urinary cancers.

There have been multiple cases of melamine poisoning in animals, which is proof that melamine is a well-known nephrotoxin. The precise mechanism underlying melamine toxicity is yet unknown. Infants with melamine-related sickness have low death rates, however, stone development is common. Stone formation in newborns is 2.58% in China and 0.03% in Hong Kong.

Mammals cannot metabolize melamine, and its original form is excreted in the urine. The quick renal elimination of melamine mostly affects the kidney. Kidney stones from Chinese newborns have been studied, and the results show that the stones are made of melamine and uric acid, which are thought to create an equal amount of each in a crystalline lattice structure. The molar ratio of uric acid to melamine, however, has varied from 1:2 to 2.1:1 in stones removed from young patients with Melamine related Urinary stones (MUS). This indicates that uric acid crystals and melamine-uric acid complexes may be heterogeneously mixed to form melamine-uric acid stones.

The long-term impact of melamine-contaminated ilk on infants

Many babies and young children still have remaining stones when they are discharged from the hospital, although more than 50% of MUS patients heal after a brief hospital stay. The long-standing consequences of baby formula milk containing melamine remain unknown even after up to four years of follow-up. However, this long follow-up has made it evident that melamine has an impact on a child’s development. Eighty-one MUS-affected kids were enrolled in this four years follow-up research. Infants with melamine-related urinary stones were considerably more likely to be underweight and under height than controls.

Detection of melamine in milk and milk products

Since the incidents involving the poisoning of milk powder, there has been a great deal of interest in melamine detection in milk and other food samples. Some extremely selective and quick screening melamine detection techniques are available. The most effective ways to establish the presence of melamine and similar chemicals are liquid and gas chromatographic techniques  combined with mass detection, aforementioned techniques allow for low levels of detection, as well as rapid detection of melamine in adulterated milk.

Safe levels of melamine in milk

According to the United Nations’ Food standards body, the safe melamine level in powdered milk formula is 1.0 mg per kilogram for infants and 2.5 mg per kilogram for other milk products and animal feed. For all goods in Europe with more than 15% milk, the Food Safety Authority has set the limit at 2.5 mg/kg. WHO recommends the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of melamine is 0.2 mg/kg body weight per day. Throughout the incident, melamine laboratory testing was carried out by several national agencies. WHO compiled the analytical findings that were collected through information published on official government websites or by getting in touch with national authorities directly. From October 2008 to January 2009, 52 companies were producing contaminated liquid milk and yogurt above a safe level around the globe.

Messages to gain/learn from milk adulteration incidences

The incidences involving milk powder tainted with melamine have produced a lot of knowledge on the identification, mechanisms, and treatment of melamine toxicity. In China, melamine-uric acid stones, hospitalization, and child fatalities have been linked to the adulteration of milk. The WHO, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the European Food Safety Authority reevaluated the TDI for melamine in the wake of these instances.

Food safety is important for short and long-term health as well as for the sustainability of national economies, commerce, and tourism. Everybody is at risk from contaminated food as a result of globalization, but especially vulnerable populations including newborns, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with existing illnesses. The possibility of a repeat of this kind of catastrophe exists as long as the business is conducted and laws are not properly observed. Even though the Chinese government has tightened the rules, incidences of food contamination with melamine, such as with confectionery, continue to occur. Although milk quality has upgraded, customers are not satisfied, and feedback results clearly show quality issues. Internet users inquire about the quality of milk powder and, in addition to melamine-related queries, inquire about the presence of antibiotics and aflatoxins.  More research is needed to ensure food safety.


Melanin-contaminated milk incidents teach us crisis management, earlier discovery, swift reaction, preventative strategies, and better clinical care procedures. New environmental toxins could keep growing and similar food safety incidents might occur as a result of the rising industrialization of developing countries. The prevention and risk management of food contamination must always be a top priority in terms of research, public health, and public policy.


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