China is a major export market for Western manufacturers of infant formula valued at US$23 billion. But with the Chinese government aiming to boost consumer confidence in domestic products, it has stepped up strict enforcement of existing legislation relating to imported infant formula. While vanillin and related compounds are allowed in infant food formulations for infants over 6 months old, no food flavors are permitted in food products for infants aged 0-6 months. It’s not enough for vanillin levels to be very low or undetectable as in Europe, infant formula for the Chinese market must be completely vanillin-free.
The consequences of non-compliance can be severe: substantial fines, product recalls, negative media coverage and damaged brand reputation. In several recent incidents, the Chinese State Administration of Market Supervision and Regulation announced that it had detected trace amounts of both vanillin and ethyl-vanillin in several batches of imported infant formula. Incidents like this impact the reputation of the entire Western infant food industry.
Risk of cross-contamination
Vanillin detected in infant formula is mainly caused by carry-over and cross-contamination. Particularly in driers and powder blenders, there can be carry-over from one batch to the next. If products that should be absolutely vanillin-free are produced in the same infrastructure as products that contain vanillin as an intended and allowed ingredient, there’s the risk of carry-over and cross-contamination. Infant formula manufacturers have made significant progress in eradicating cross-contamination in their own production processes. However, there are pressure points across the supply chain and suppliers of raw materials and ingredients for use in infant formula also need to ensure that vanillin is absent from their products, as carry-over in their facilities is a potential source of cross-contamination.
Highly accurate analysis
As an established specialist in the food industry, TRISKELION proactively monitors the market for safety and regulatory issues and, in conjunction with customers, sets up processes to address them. We first detected signals from China that vanillin in infant formula was an issue in October 2020. As a result, we were the first company to have compliance analytics in place to detect vanillin, ethyl-vanillin and methyl-vanillin in infant food. Our highly sensitive analytical methods can detect even very low levels of cross-contamination across the production chain, from raw materials and intermediates to final products. If necessary, these analyses can be conducted with extremely short turnaround times to resolve urgent issues. Several leading infant formula producers and their suppliers are already benefiting from these analytical services.