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How can we be sure the foods we feed our young children are safe and manufactured to the highest standards for quality?

Milk in baby bottle

Around the world, mothers face a choice between breastfeeding their infants and using manufactured formula. The decision between natural and synthetic can be affected by several factors, including prevailing cultural attitudes and the personal situation of the mother. While industrialized countries are seeing a return to breastfeeding, this is not the case in many countries. Ultimately, most children will eventually receive manufactured food products at some point. To protect infants and children, these products must be manufactured to the very highest standards for quality and safety.

Types of Baby/Infant Food

After extensive scientific research into the changing nutritional requirements of developing babies, industry has created a range of products to satiate each child’s needs. These include:

  1. Infant formulas – for hungry babies or as a replacement to breastmilk
  2. Follow-on formula – supplements to solid foods
  3. Solid food – e.g. cereal-based products prepared using milk or vegetable, potato and/or meat purées
  4. Hypoallergenic (HA) infant formula - recommended to babies of parents with allergies. Available both as 1 and 2
  5. Formula for special medical purposes – e.g. for a child with a diagnosed protein allergy

Cause for Concern

In 2008, the world learned about the devastating effects of what became known as the Chinese milk scandal. The scandal involved the adulteration of milk and infant formula with melamine. It affected 300,000 children, hospitalized around 54,000 babies, and killed six. The severity of the event resulted in a nationwide shunning of domestic milk products, especially Chinese-made nutritionals like infant formula.1

This is not an isolated incident. In the last few years there have been several cases of infant food products being recalled, for a wide variety of reasons. In 2017, 57 tons of frozen organic chicken bites were recalled in the US because they contained bone fragments.2 In 2018, one multinational’s infant formula was found to contain insects and their baby formula tested positive for the Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria.3 Also in 2018, baby food pouches were found to be defective in Canada4, organic baby rice cereal was incorrectly labeled in Australia and New Zealand5, and laboratory analysis of 50 leading baby food brands in the US showed that two-thirds contained ‘worrisome’ levels of heavy metals (cadmium, lead, mercury, and inorganic arsenic).6 So far in 2019, we have seen recalls for Salmonella in baby formula in France7, possible choking hazards in baby gripe water in the US8, and baby food products that could permit the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism in Canada.9

These represent just some of the incidents involving infant foods. While the effects of poor quality control, contamination, and unsafe practices can be disastrous for consumers, the consequences for businesses can be severe. Recalls can be financially debilitating but, if the products reach consumers, the potential ramifications can be far higher. In the case of the Chinese milk scandal, two people were sentenced to death and a third imprisoned for life.

Protecting Infants

Around the world, standards exist to maintain quality and protect babies and infants. In many countries, baby foods are covered under general food standards regulations. Some countries then choose to add specific requirements on top of these. For example, the US has specific nutrient levels for children less than four years old, with specific parameters on how the nutrient facts panel must be displayed and what can be stated about the nutrients.10

As the country at the center of the milk scandal, China has introduced two national standards based on international Codex Alimentarius standards. These are:

  1. GB 10765-2010 - National Food Safety Standard, Infant Formula
  2. GB 10767-2010 - National Food Safety Standard, Older Infants and Young Children Formula

In the European Union (EU), Directive 2006/141/EC states that follow-on milk, formula used as a supplement to solid food, must only be introduced in the seventh month. This regulation will be replaced by Ordinance (EU) 2017/127 on February 22, 2020. The EU also regulates solid foods under Directive 2006/125/EC.

Focus on Glycidyl and 3-MCPD

As research methods improve, previously unknown or unheeded substances are being identified. If it is determined that these represent a threat to the child, new regulations are introduced.

The EU has recently focused on glycidyl and 3-MCPD derivatives, which are toxicologically relevant process contaminants. As industry better understands the existence and impacts of these substances, it has led to the introduction of Ordinance (EU) 2018/290, which came into force in each Member State before March 2018. This is the first time maximum content levels for glycidyl fatty acid esters (glycidols), amongst other things, have been given for:

  • Plant oils and fats used in the production of solid foods and cereal-based foods for babies and infants
  • Infant first milk, follow-on milk and foods for special medical purposes for babies and infants (in powder form)
  • Infant first milk, follow-on milk and foods for special medical purposes for babies and infants (as a liquid)

SGS Solutions

SGS offers a comprehensive range of services to help industry deliver safe and compliant baby and infant food products to the market. Our experts understand the various standards employed around the world and can offer consultation and testing solutions to expedite access to these markets.

SGS provides analysis for the following analytical parameters in baby foods:

  • Vitamins: fat and water-soluble vitamins, vitaminoids, carotenoids and secondary plant substances
  • Mineral substances: Bulk and trace elements, including with low detection limits
  • Nutritional values: Calorific value, ash, protein, carbohydrates, fat, fatty acids, fiber, sodium chloride, sugar and amino acids
  • Contaminants and residues: Heavy metals, mineral oil residues (MOSH/MOAH), 3-MCPD and glycidyl esters, free MCPD and glycidol, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pesticides, plasticizers (phthalates), dioxins and PCBs, mycotoxins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids/tropane alkaloids, nitrates/nitrites, veterinary medicinal product residues and metabolites thereof
  • Microbiology
  • Allergens
  • Species identification using PCR and NGS (next generation sequencing)
  • GMO screening

To learn more about how SGS can help you ensure safety and quality in your infant foods and other specialist foods visit www.sgs.com/healthfood.

For the complete range of SGS services visit SGS Food Safety or email us.

To learn more, contact:

Sabine Larsen-Vefring
Global Business Development Manager
t: +49 30 34 607 746

Sources

1 Melamine 10 years on: Foreign and 'foreign' firms vie for position
2 Toddler foods, chicken bites recalled because of bone fragments
3 Company, governments investigate contaminated infant formula powder
4 Food Recall Warning - Select Love Child Organics brand and PC Organics brand baby food pouches recalled due to packaging defects that may allow the entry of spoilage microorganisms
5 Popular baby food recalled over safety fears
6 Heavy Metals in Baby Food: What You Need to Know
7 Lactalis recalls baby milk from Spanish site linked to salmonella
8 Baby Gripe Water sold at Dollar General recalled
9 Potential for botulism prompts company to recall ‘natural’ baby and toddler foods
10 Guidance for Industry: Food Labeling Guide