By Barbara Kessler

As if we needed another scare this week, the tainted milk scandal in China continues to slip its moorings, with melamine, an industrial chemical never intended for human consumption, turning up in Lipton brand “milk tea powder” products destined for Asian markets as well as in good ol’ Nabisco Ritz cracker cheese sandwiches tested in South Korea.

International food giant Unilever announced today it was recalling certain Lipton milk teas from Hong Kong and Macau shelves because internal tests found melamine contamination. The company reported, however, that none of the affected products were destined for U.S. stores and that Unilever’s U.S. division does not import any milk ingredients from China.

Chocolate and coating suppliers in the U.S. have “confirmed that all of their products used in Unilever U.S. production” of ice cream and health drinks are unaffected by the melamine contamination in China, said company spokesman Dean Mastrojohn.

Meanwhile, South Korea officials reported finding melamine in Nabisco’s Ritz cracker cheese sandwiches and said they were banning imports of all Chinese-made food products containing powdered milk. (No calls back yet from Nabisco.)

Earlier, Cadbury also recalled 11 chocolate bars after tests found a small amount of melamine in six chocolate samples. Hong Kong authorities declared the contamination to be at a “safe level” – but Cadbury said it was still withdrawing the candy, made in Beijing.

Before that it was Mr. Brown Blend Instant Coffee and Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee, and some other Mr. Brown’s brand coffees, on the hook for contamination, and…well, the list goes on.

Here’s a place to keep updated for products possibly entering American markets: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food advisory website. Unfortunately, it’s not up to the minute, but seems to suffer a two or three day lag time.

But back to melamine. You’ve probably heard that this poisoner of dogs and cats that crept into pet food made in China last year has been found over the past several weeks in a variety of brands of powdered milk products made in China. (For a rundown of how this chemical is intended to be used in floor tiles, whiteboards and other non-edible products, see wiseGEEK.

The melamine is believed to have been introduced to the milk products to circumvent quality-control tests — it registers as protein. It has sickened thousands of infants across China, killed four babies and threatened more tots in other Asian countries that imported (and have now banned) the products. The U.S. has so far not been affected by the baby formula, though other melamine-tainted products, such as White Rabbit candy have been distributed here.

Chinese women are being urged to turn to breastfeeding to limit the risk to their children. Authorities have rounded up more than two dozen suspects related to this spreading scandal.

China’s President Hu Jintao said today that the country needs to “ensure that all products on the market are up to standard, so consumers don’t have to worry.” This, nearly two full months after the first evidence of the melamine-milk problem surfaced.

The moral to the story? Those who seek comfort best stay out of the snack aisle.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media