Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More about Melamine

A lot of our cousins are asking why melamine......

Melamine is sometimes unethically added to food products in order to increase the apparent protein content. Standard tests such as the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine.

And a great excerpt from Scientific America below:

Protein Pretense; August 2007; Scientific American Magazine; by Alison Snyder; 2 Page(s)

After hundreds of dogs and cats fell ill this past spring, government officials traced the source to melamine, a nitrogen-rich compound found in plastics and fertilizer that, when ingested by the animals, crystallized in their kidneys and caused renal failure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration later announced that producers may have deliberately added the compound to wheat gluten and rice protein concentrates to inflate the measured amount of protein. The greater the protein level in the concentrates, the higher the market price the products fetch. Regardless of whether its addition was deliberate or accidental, melamine snuck past standard industry protein analysis, suggesting that the century-old test methods should be reevaluated. Several alternatives exist, but the food industry has yet to make a switch.

Traditionally, food protein is measured by a method developed by Danish brewer Johann Kjeldahl in the late 1800s. In this analytical technique, a strong acid digests a sample, breaking down the organic matter and releasing nitrogen, which is then converted to ammonia. The amount of ammonia indicates how much nitrogen was in the original sample and, hence, the amount of protein. This "proved to be a robust, precise method," says Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is attractive because it can be used for a variety of products and protein types. Another, similar nitrogen-based technique, called the Dumas test, is also popular with industry. It relies on burning the sample to release nitrogen. The Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) International, a scientific association that sets standards for analytical methods, lists the Kjeldahl and Dumas techniques as the standard methods for measuring protein in food.

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