ARCHIVED - Background Information on Melamine


Melamine (CAS No. 108-78-1) is the common name for 1,3,5-Triazine-2,4,6-triamine. Melamine is a synthetic chemical used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications including the production of resins and foams, laminates, glues, cleaning products, flame retardants and fertilizers. It may also be produced as a by-product when substances such as certain triazine-based pesticides are used (e.g. cyromazine).

Melamine is not naturally occurring, has no accepted or approved direct food uses, and is not permitted to be added to food for sale in Canada. However, low levels of melamine may be present in the environment as the result of its many commercial uses and, as a result, trace amounts may occur in certain food commodities. The presence of low background levels (in the range of parts per billion or ppb) of melamine in food does not pose a health risk to consumers. High levels of melamine in any food product are thought to be due to intentional adulteration in an attempt to artificially increase the detected protein content.

Health effects from exposure to melamine vary depending on the amount and duration of exposure. Scientific research indicates that effects to the bladder and kidneys, such as bladder stones and chronic kidney inflammation, can be seen if exposed to high enough levels of melamine. More severe effects such as kidney failure and, in rare cases, death have also been seen. Exposure to low levels of melamine, even for long periods of time, would not pose a significant health risk.

In 2008, there were reports from several countries of the possible contamination of a variety of food products from China, mainly infant formula and products containing milk and milk-derived ingredients, with the chemical melamine.

To date, no melamine related illnesses have been reported in Canada and no melamine-contaminated infant formula products have been discovered in this country. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has taken a number of actions including product sampling, testing and food recalls related to products that may be contaminated with melamine. The CFIA works with the Canadian Border Services Agency to ensure that border restrictions remain in place and are updated as new information becomes available. For the latest information, see the  CFIA website.

For more information on melamine, go to: Melamine - Questions and Answers

Health Canada's Risk Assessment and Interim Standards for Melamine in Foods Containing Milk and Milk-Derived Ingredients

Health Canada and the CFIA work together to help protect Canada's food supply. Health Canada is responsible for setting standards and regulations and the CFIA is responsible for enforcing those standards.

To determine how much melamine a person could consume without a risk of experiencing any adverse health effects, Health Canada scientists reviewed all the available data about the health effects of melamine. As a result, Health Canada has published its Risk Assessment for Melamine in Foods Containing Milk and Milk-Derived Ingredients and has set interim standards for melamine in these products to ensure that all age groups and segments of the population are protected. Furthermore, these standards were set to differentiate between normal background levels and intentional adulteration or contamination of melamine in products containing milk and milk-derived ingredients, and have been developed using a consistent approach adopted by other food regulatory agencies in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States:

Since melamine and substances that can degrade to form melamine are used for various industrial applications, low levels may be present in the environment and trace amounts may occur in certain food commodities. The presence of such low levels in food is not considered to pose a health risk. Nevertheless, for the purpose of differentiating between the presence of low background levels of melamine in food and the problem of intentional adulteration, Health Canada has set the following interim standards for melamine in products containing milk and milk-derived ingredients:

  • Infant formula and sole source nutrition products, including meal replacement products
  • Other food products containing milk and milk-derived ingredients
    • Maximum of 2.5 ppm*

It remains Health Canada's policy that levels of potential contaminants in infant foods should be kept as low as reasonably achievable.

Having based its risk assessment on the latest scientific evidence available, Health Canada scientists will continue to investigate the health effects of melamine and structurally related chemicals such as cyanuric acid as new information become available, and will update this assessment and the associated interim standards for melamine accordingly.

Furthermore, if any new testing results are found to be above Canada’s interim standards for melamine, a health risk assessment will be used to determine what risk management action(s) should be initiated by the CFIA. Such actions can include investigating the source of contamination within the manufacturing process, removal of the product from retail or initiating a recall with public notification for any products that represents a high risk.

Health Canada scientists will also continue to work in close consultation with a network of scientists from other international jurisdictions, including the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), the European Food Safety Authority, the European Commission, Food Standards Australia New-Zealand, the New-Zealand Food Safety Authority, the UK Food Standards Agency, the Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments (AFSSA) and the Japanese Food Safety Commission.

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*These interim standards will apply to a combined concentration of melamine and cyanuric acid (a chemical analogue that may be found with melamine).

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