By: LISA R. WILSON

Federal health officials on Thursday, November 13th, ordered dozens of imported foods from China, including milk-containing snacks, drinks and chocolates, to be held at the border and tested for melamine contamination. The FDA has had an import alert in place since Oct. 10th for specific products found contaminated with melamine and melamine-related compounds.

“We’ve continued to get information from others in the international community, and reports from China, about melamine contamination moving into different commodities,” said Steve Solomon, a senior FDA enforcement official. “Most of the products we are talking about are finished products like cookies, cakes and candies.”

Chinese companies importing milk-containing products into the U.S. must pay to have their products tested by an independent laboratory that meets FDA standards. Many Chinese companies have been found to water down milk, then add melamine to artificially boost protein readings on quality tests. This practice was discovered after the Beijing Olympics this summer and backfired when thousands of Chinese children suffered kidney failure after drinking contaminated infant formula. Nearly 13,000 children were hospitalized in China, and at least four died.

Although the U.S. does not import milk or infant formula from China, and no illnesses have been reported, authorities have found melamine-contaminated candies and drinks during inspections at Asian groceries.

Companies responsible for producing/distributing defective food products can be held liable for medical costs to ill consumers, and may incur other costs such as legal fees, higher insurance costs, and lost market share and profits. For more information about this melamine-contamination issue, visit the FDA advisory page at http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/melamine_qa.html. If you or a loved one has suffered from health problems that you believe may be attributed to melamine food-contamination, seek immediate medical help. To discuss your legal options, contact a products liability lawyer in your area.