Raw material melamine
Melamine is a chemical compound that contains a large amount of nitrogen. It is used industrially in the production of plastics as well as special resins and adhesives. Its most common metabolites are cyanuric acid, ammeline, and ammelide. Pure melamine is a tasteless and odorless white powder that is easily soluble in hot water and less soluble in cold water. It irritates eyes, skin, and mucosae, yet only has a low level of acute toxicity. The primary target of its toxic effects is the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder). If the melamine level in the urine exceeds a certain concentration, then one can expect to develop bladder or kidney stones or crystals in the urinary tract. These melamine stones or crystals can have adverse effects on kidney function and even lead to kidney failure.
Melamine was brought to the attention of the general public in 2006 and 2008 due to cases of food fraud. In those cases, melamine appeared as a banned means of extending wheat gluten and milk powder, which primarily affected animal feed and infant food produced in China. At that time, it resulted in numerous cases of illness in children in China. In Europe, processed foods such as cookies and chocolate that were made from the milk powder produced in China were also contaminated with melamine. With this illegal usage of melamine, the goal was to fake higher protein content, because the quality of a food or feed product depends on its protein content. The amount of protein is generally derived from the nitrogen content using a standard analytical procedure (either the Kjeldahl or Dumas method). With the addition of melamine or cyanuric acid, both of which have a high amount of nitrogen in the molecule, it ultimately feigns the presence of protein that is not actually there. This deception can only be revealed by means of specific analyses.
Due to these incidents, the European Commission set maximum permissible levels for melamine content in food in the Commission Regulation (EU) No. 1881/2006. Since that regulation took effect, any food product intended for human consumption is only allowed to contain a maximum of 2.5 mg/kg melamine. Infant formula in powder form (that can be used starting at birth) as well as follow-on formula (used from six months onwards) can only contain 1 mg/kg melamine. Furthermore, the European Food Safety Authority defined a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.2 mg/kg bodyweight.
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