Just one day after Minister of the Department of Health (DOH) Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) guaranteed that all food products on store shelves are safe, the department said traces of melamine had been found in six types of Nestle milk powder manufactured in China.
The department ordered a recall of all 20 Nestle milk products on the local market, even though it said the melamine levels found were too small to pose a health threat.
“The quantity of the chemical was very small, so the products are still safe and will not have any effects on health. But to protect consumers’ rights and safety, we have asked the company to pull all its milk powder products from stores,” Yeh told a press conference yesterday.
He said that most of the products would be removed from shelves within 24 hours.
A random test conducted by local health bureaus found 0.06 parts per million (ppm) to 0.85ppm of melamine in the milk powder made between February last year and this June by the Shuangcheng Nestle company in Helongjiang Province, Yeh said.
Nestle, which also produces Klim milk power, is one of the leading brands for infant and adult milk products in Taiwan.
Yeh said Nestle milk powder had tested negative for melamine before the health department decided to employ its most sensitive test — liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) — to check melamine levels.
LC-MS/MS can detect melamine levels as low as 0.05ppm, the department said.
The health department said on Wednesday that samples of all imported and locally made dairy products would be tested using LC-MS/MS, and only those that tested negative for melamine would be allowed on the market.
Nestle milk products were previously classified as safe, as they were tested by means of a less sensitive technique than LC-MS/MS, said Yeh, adding that the products would not damage the public’s health.
Yeh said that the department would invite experts from Japan, the US and the EU to discuss the food safety issue in the next few days in the hope that Taiwan’s regulations could be brought in line with international standards for melamine content.
“The whole [made-in-China contamination] issue has highlighted the urgent need for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the Word Health Organization,” Yeh said.
The Nestle products, along with the products of another 17 importers from China, were allowed on the market late last month after they were tested for melamine. Yeh did not rule out the possibility that products from the other 17 companies may pose problems.
The department had earlier raised the acceptable level for melamine content in food to 2.5ppm. But the revision caused panic among consumers, who argued for a “zero content” standard, leading to the resignation of former DOH minister Lin Fang-yue (林芳郁) last week.
With Taiwan’s safety standard for melamine reset at “undetectable,” products that contain from 0.05ppm to 2.4ppm of the chemical may not be allowed on store shelves.
As the employees at a local branch of Hypermarket Geant yesterday pulled the Nestle milk products off shelves, an 82-year-old customer who declined to give his full name complained that the officials’ flip-flopping had left the public confused.
“I’ve been drinking Nestle and Klim’s milk [powders] for years, and I don’t know what brand I should choose now,” he said.