Lasers detect synthetic chemical in baby formula food

May 1st, 2009 - 3:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 1 (IANS) Infrared lasers have helped researchers detect minute traces of a synthetic chemical like melamine in baby formula, within minutes.
Melamine, used in plastics and other products, has been found in baby formula and other milk-based products imported from China.

High doses of melamine were associated with cancer in some animals, and it is especially dangerous for infants, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have found detection methods that are inexpensive and do not require a lot of the product or time for sampling,” said Lisa Mauer, professor of food science, at Purdue University.

Mauer obtained unadulterated samples of powdered formula and measured them using near- and mid-infrared spectroscopy techniques.

“The melamine structure is very different than the formula, so you can see differences in the spectrum,” Mauer said. “Because they are so different, we can detect down to one part per million of melamine.”

Federal guidelines permit only one part per million of melamine in infant formula and up to two and a half parts per million in other products. Having an inexpensive and quick test would make it easier to test imported or domestically made products for melamine, said a Purdue release.

Mauer and her graduate students found the melamine detection process after she received a new software programme that she wanted the students to become familiar with. Mauer challenged them to use spectroscopy to detect melamine, thinking they might be able to do so at high concentrations.

After successful tries at higher concentrations, Mauer and the students kept lowering the concentration of melamine until they reached one part per million.

These findings were published in the online version of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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