Canadians should not eat, distribute or sell White Rabbit brand candy, a popular Chinese confection that may be tainted with melamine, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned Thursday.
The candy is normally available for sale at retail stores throughout Canada in a variety of flavours, the agency said.
Health officials in Hong Kong and Singapore said they have found trace amounts of melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizer, in some of the candy.
The Canadian alert advised importers and distributors to voluntarily recall the products, and retailers to remove it from their shelves. There have been no reports of illness linked to the product in Canada, where melamine is not allowed as a food ingredient.
The CFIA said it is working with importers to remove the candy from the marketplace and to monitor the effectiveness of the recall.
In addition to White Rabbit candies, the agency has already singled out Mr. Brown 3-in-1 Instant Coffee and Nissin Cha Cha desserts for possibly being been made with tainted milk products.
The agency has also warned against consuming infant formula from China, which isn't approved for sale in Canada but may be imported and sold illegally.
Recalls have also been expanded in Europe and Asia, where melamine had already been found in a range of Chinese-made dairy products. Dozens of countries have banned or recalled Chinese dairy products, including the 27-country European Union on Thursday.
Canadian officials have said, however, that placing an outright ban on Chinese products as other countries have done would be an over-reaction, as many are still safe.
"Our approach is that we have a border lookout, we are doing our own surveillance on any product coming into the country and we're testing all that product," said Garfield Balsom, a CFIA spokesperson.
"We want to get assurances that the product coming in is safe.... But then again, there's products that are coming in that are perfectly safe that consumers want to consume."
In China, melamine-tainted milk has killed four babies and sickened nearly 53,000.
Ottawa acted early
The candy wasn't on the shelves of most Ottawa stores Thursday, the city's public health department reported based on checks by municipal inspectors.
Andy Roche, program manager at Ottawa Public Health, said the city decided to act before the CFIA recall, given the level of concern and the results of tests elsewhere.
Roche said public health inspectors didn't find the candy for sale in most stores Thursday, indicating that retailers had pulled it off the shelves themselves as a precaution.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said White Rabbit candy has been added to its list of products being inspected at ports of entry, but that no melamine-tainted goods from China of any sort have turned up. Nonetheless, some grocers in the U.S. started removing the popular candies from their shelves.
U.S. and European consumer safety officials urged Beijing to better enforce product safety standards.
Meanwhile, Canadian importers, distributors and retailers of the affected Chinese products have cleared store shelves, some pulling food that hasn't even been named by the agency.
T&T Supermarket, an Asian grocery chain with locations in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, has taken 20 different products from seven different brands off the shelves.
"We're watching the news from Asia very closely — our strategy is if there's any reason to suspect a product may have problems, we'll remove them from our shelves until the testing proves there's no problems," company spokeswoman Sandra Creighton said.
There have been no reported cases of melamine-related illness in Canada.