These are troubled times for Chinese exporters. After the furore over pet food, it is now the turn of the toothpaste manufacturers to go under the scanner.
The federal government has announced it is stopping all imports of Chinese toothpaste till the Food and Drug Administration decides whether the product contains diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid.
The imports will be released only if they test negative for the chemical.
The FDA began the tests following reports that tainted Chinese toothpaste was sold in Australia, the Dominican Republic and Panama.
"There is absolutely no evidence of this toothpaste in the U.S. but it is what we believe a prudent and cautionary measure to protect the health of the American public," a US spokesman said.
Diethylene glycol, or DEG, is a thickening agent used as a low-cost but frequently deadly substitute for glycerin, a sweetener commonly used in drugs.
DEG was blamed for the deaths of at least 51 people in Panama last year after it was mixed into cough syrup, another case with allegations involving China. Between 1990 and 1998, similar incidents of DEG poisoning reportedly occurred in Argentina, Bangladesh, Haiti, India and Nigeria, killing hundreds. In 1937, more than 100 people died in the United States after ingesting a DEG-contaminated drug.
Earlier this week the Dominican Republic banned the sale of two brands of Chinese toothpaste for similar reasons.
Nearly 90,000 units of the toothpaste, imported from Panama and sold under the brand names Excel and Mr. Cool, have been confiscated by authorities in the Caribbean country since late last week, Dominican Health Secretary Bautista Rojas Gomez said.
"Laboratory tests have confirmed that the content of these toothpastes can cause kidney problems," Rojas Gomez said. "That's why a nationwide seizure has been ordered."
Panama pulled thousands of tubes of the toothpaste from stores last week after tests showed they contained high levels of diethylene glycol.
No illnesses have been reported from the contaminated paste though.
The two toothpaste brands entered Panama illegally from China through a free-trade zone, Panamanian public investigators said.
The safety of food imports from China will be discussed during economic talks in Washington, a U.S. official said.