What is Melamine?
Melamine is an organic compound commonly used in manufacturing products like melamine dinnerware and plastic coatings. Though melamine is known for being highly durable and having an attractive glossy finish, it has recently caused concern due to its ability to contaminate food and water, thereby potentially compromising human health.
Even though melamine is listed as a “Generally Recognized As Safe” ingredient by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), certain levels of melamine from contaminated sources can be hazardous if ingested. As a result, melamine manufacturers are now held to stricter standards and must ensure that their products are safe for human consumption.
How is Melamine Regulated?
Melamine is regulated by governments in order to protect human health and safety. Though melamine is generally safe for short-term use, prolonged exposure can be toxic and could lead to adverse reactions depending on the concentration. To help ensure melamine levels remain safe, government agencies routinely inspect production facilities, review ingredient lists and perform quality tests on melamine-containing materials prior to their release.
Melamine has been regulated in the EU since 2005, when it was added to the list of banned food additives. This followed European Commission testing that found melamine posed a potential risk to human health.
Since then, melamine has been subject to stringent requirements on its maximum permitted levels in food and drink, though melamine remains an ingredient in certain types of ceramic services and crockery. To ensure melamine is not present at unacceptable levels, melamine levels are regularly monitored across the European Union, with melamine only permitted if it is not detected within a concentration level of 10 mg/kg or higher.
United States: Regulated
In the early 1980s melamine was designated as an ‘indirect food additive’ by the FDA. This designation asserts that melamine usage is safe and approved only in materials intended to have ‘indirect’ contact with food. Since then, many USDA regulations include melamine thresholds for ensuring its safety along with other extraneous materials.
Beyond regulating melamine levels, agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration also put into law guidelines regarding melamine residue on plastic items used for human consumption – including but not limited to cutlery, cups and containers.
Melamine has become strictly regulated in Canada since it was found to be a toxic chemical that can negatively affect human health. A 2012 ruling by Health Canada declared melamine as ‘toxic’ and began the process of setting melamine-related safety standards which include reducing melamine levels used in tableware products, banning items that contain melamine from public sale, and outlining new maximum limits on melamine concentrations within certain food items.
Where is Melamine Found? (Most Common Products)
Main products include:
- Coatings and adhesives
Melamine is also known for its illegal addition to food, including:
- Infant formula
- Powdered milks
- Ice cream
- Canned coffee drinks
- Similar products