Chromatography Unveils Melamine in Infant Formula

December 2, 2010
Robert Moreschi

Since 2008, a growing number of infants in China have been suffering urinary problems stemming from the consumption of melamine, which has been contaminating baby formulas and other dairy products.

Since 2008, a growing number of infants in China have been suffering urinary problems stemming from the consumption of melamine, which has been contaminating baby formulas and other dairy products. Lower levels of melamine were also found in non-dairy products such as biscuits, candies and also coffee drinks. In order to properly detect and quantify the melamine being found in many of these products, labs are turning to many different methods and analytical techniques, with the most popular one being HPLC-UV.

In September of 2008 alone, almost 52,000 infants in China developed urinary problems from their ingestion of melamine, with the number rocketing up towards nearly 300,000 infants by November of that year, resulting in six deaths.

Although reportedly 90% of the melamine typically ingested is excreted from the body through the urine within 24 hours, health issues can develop if the melamine level in the body exceeds a certain threshold, like it did for hundreds of thousands of infants in China. Beyond this point, an excess buildup of melamine forms crystals in the urine that can then grow into larger, more troublesome stones in the kidneys, urethra or bladder.

With the cost of maintenance and operation of GC-MS and HPLC-MS being too high to use outside of specialized labs, many scientists are turning to either the highly popular HPLC-UV method, or a new method introduced by Gopalakrishnan Venkatasami and Dr. John R. Sowa of Seton Hall University (South Orange, New Jersey) that is the first known acetonitrile-free reverse-phase HPLC melamine detection method. With this new method, scientists hope to be able to more precisely quantify the levels of melamine in certain products and identify at-risk samples.

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