Soon, even small traces of melamine can be detected in infants formula using a novel mechanism developed by a researcher at Purdue University.
With the help of infrared lasers and light spectroscopy methods, Lisa Mauer, an associate professor of food science, was able to detect melamine in baby formula at one part per million in about five minutes or less.
Melamine, a synthetic chemical used in plastics and other products, has been found in baby formula and other milk-based products imported from China.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high doses of melamine is linked to cancer in some animals, and it is especially dangerous for infants.
"We have found detection methods that are inexpensive and do not require a lot of the product or time for sampling. Any company could do this itself. Police agencies, state departments of health and many colleges have this type of equipment," said Mauer.
Mauer obtained unadulterated samples of powdered formula and measured the samples using near- and mid-infrared spectroscopy techniques.
Infrared laser beams reflected off the sample and toward a detector, which calculated how much of the laser's energy was absorbed by the sample and created an absorbance spectrum that was unique to the sample.
The same data were collected for pure melamine. When the formula was mixed with melamine and analyzed, the new spectrum was compared to that of the unadulterated formula, showing the concentration of melamine in the sample.
"The melamine structure is very different than the formula, so you can see differences in the spectrum. Because they are so different, we can detect down to one part per million of melamine," Mauer said.
Federal guidelines allow for 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.
The study was published in the early online version of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.