U.S. health officials on Thursday ordered dozens of imported foods from China held at the border as possible health risks. Most are ethnic treats, including snacks, drinks and chocolates.
It's unusual for the Food and Drug Administration to put such a broad hold on goods from an entire country, not just a few rogue manufacturers. The order, which covers products made with milk, is a precaution to keep out foods contaminated with the chemical melamine, which can cause serious kidney problems.
“We've continued to get information from others in the international community, and reports from China, about (melamine contamination) moving into different commodities,” said Steve Solomon, a senior FDA enforcement official. “Most of the products we are talking about are finished products like cookies, cakes and candies. The impact will be for various ethnic communities looking for specific products.”
Under the directive, FDA inspectors at U.S. ports of entry will detain foods from China made with milk and certain ingredients derived from milk. Importers must pay to have their products tested by an independent laboratory that meets FDA standards. Only products found to be melamine-free will be allowed into the country.
The order also applies to pet foods and some bulk protein products, the focus of a melamine recall in 2007.
Essentially, the FDA action shifts the burden of proof to Chinese companies, which must now supply evidence that their products are safe. Most consumers should not be affected, since major U.S. food manufacturers get their milk ingredients here.
A senior lawmaker said the FDA waited too long to act and more Chinese products should be held for testing.