High levels of melamine in milk and milk products were first detected in 2008 in products from China. This triggered a worldwide concern and led to regulatory melamine testing of milk. In India the FSSAI issued an advisory in 2008 highlighting the incidence of melamine adulteration.
Melamine adulteration is a deliberate form of adulteration carried out by unscrupulous individuals as it increases the protein content in milk. This is due to the nitrogen content of melamine molecules. When children ingest melamine contaminated milk in liquid or powder form they are likely to suffer serious health problems. The harmful effect of melamine along with toxicological references as well as a list of methods for melamine testing of food products was made known to the public.
In response to the crisis, food regulators implemented strict regulatory requirements for levels of melamine permissible in milk. Codex Alimentarius set the limit of
- 2.5 mg/kg for general food and feed
- 1 mg/kg in infant formula
- 0.15 mg/kg in liquid infant formula (was set in 2012).
The FSSAI that regulates food in India also have the same standards as that set by Codex Alimentarius Commission. Therefore all milk and milk products need to undergo melamine testing according to the 5 January 2016 amended standards for melamine in the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulation 2011. These amendments are in force and so all FBOs manufacturing milk products including infant formula and other milk products have to ensure that the levels of melamine in their products is in compliance with these standards
A testing laboratory that is accredited by the NABL and is also notified by the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) for testing of a large variety of food products is the right testing laboratory for carrying out melamine testing in milk. To analyse levels of melamine, chromatography techniques, both gas and liquid are traditionally used. There are a number of food labs that analyse melamine through the more sensitive LC/MS/MA milk food products analysis method. This is the best testing method to detect low levels of melamine as it can easily quantify melamine compounds.
Seeing that milk can be intentionally adulterated with melamine there is a need for food manufacturers and regulators to ensure product safety of milk and milk products by carrying out regular testing for melamine content. The best method is the LC-MS/MS method even though there are other forms of testing for melamine. The LC-MS/MS can detect melamine levels as low as 1 μg/kg and so this method gives a higher degree of confidence about the levels of melamine being accurate and in keeping with FSSAI standards.
Compared to other methods of melamine testing in milk LC-MS/MS method is used by food labs because it has a number of benefits like
- Less sample preparation time
- Accurate quantitative tests
- Ability to analyze a whole number of other contaminants besides melamine