What is melamine?

Melamine is a man-made chemical that can be dangerous to humans if consumed (eaten or drank).

What is it used for?

Melamine is used as an ingredient in many common household items, including cleaning products, plastics, fertilizers and glues.

Is melamine a normal food ingredient?

No. In Canada melamine is not allowed to be added into any human or animal foods. Adding melamine into food is also not approved by any national authorities of any country or by the World Health Organization (WHO)/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

However, very low safe levels of melamine are occasionally found in the environment and in some food, from the packaging or sometimes from fertilizers and pesticides. These very low levels of melamine in food do not cause any health problems in humans.

Why has melamine been in the news?

In 2008, melamine was found in high levels in infant formula, milk, and products made with milk-based ingredients imported from China. Farmers in China added melamine to their milk before selling it to the country's biggest milk powder manufacturer. They did this because it gives misleadingly high results on tests for protein content, allowing them to dilute their milk with water and still have it meet the manufacturer's test standards.

What happens to humans if they consume food/milk containing melamine?

The effects of consuming food/milk containing melamine depend on the amount of melamine in the product and for how long the person was exposed to the melamine.

Melamine can cause problems in the kidneys and bladder. These problems may, in rare cases, lead to death. As a result of the 2008 Chinese tainted milk scandal, at least 6 children died and an estimated 300,000 became sick with kidney problems after drinking the formula milk that contained this toxic chemical.

What are the signs and symptoms of melamine poisoning?

Little or no urine, blood in urine, signs of kidney infection (e.g., burning sensation or pain when urinating, strong urge to urinate, frequent urination, abdominal pain, irritability).

Is the infant formula that contains melamine available in Canada?

NO. In Canada, all infant formula must be approved by Health Canada before it can be sold in this country. No infant formulas made in China are allowed to be sold in Canada.

The Government of Canada is recommending that Canadians not buy or use infant formula manufactured in China.

What is being done in Canada to ensure our food products are safe?

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are testing infant formula sold in Canada. Other products for sale in Canada that are made with milk-based ingredients are also being tested for melamine.

Please visit the CFIA website, http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/chemical-residues-microbiology/chemical-residues/eng/1324258929171/1324264923941, for updates on food in Canada that has been tested and shown to have a higher-than-acceptable melamine content. Fortunately, the 2012–2013 report by the CFIA states that melamine was not detected in any domestic or imported eggs or dairy products tested.

Jo Arbus
with updates by the MediResource Clinical Team