BEIJING - United States foodmaker H. J. Heinz has recalled some infant food products in China after a local watchdog said they contained excessive levels of lead.
Heinz said on Monday that it had recalled four batches of a cereal product for infants after regulators in eastern China said they had found lead that exceeded regulation levels in its AD Calcium Hi-Protein Cereal.
According to the packaging, the affected product is meant for infants aged between six months and three years.
Infant products are particularly vulnerable to food safety scares in China after powdered milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine led to the deaths of at least six infants in 2008.
"I would think that Heinz is in a lot of trouble right now because parents are unforgiving of any quality control problems in baby and infant food products," said Shaun Rein, Shanghai-based managing director of China Market Research Group.
An official at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Zhejiang province declined to give details on the levels of lead in the Heinz product, but said that the FDA would release further information about the case in the coming days.
Standard levels for infant products should be below 0.2 milligrams per kg, according to a 2010 government report.
Heinz, known globally for its ketchup and baked beans, said that the issue was linked to a skimmed soya-bean powder ingredient used in the product.
"This relates to an isolated regional withdrawal in eastern China," company spokesman Michael Mullen said in e-mailed comments to Reuters.
The Zhejiang FDA has said the problem affected 1,472 boxes of cereal in the province and that Heinz had told the agency it would destroy another 153 boxes that are sealed in a warehouse in the southern city of Guangzhou.
The regulator urged Heinz to compensate its customers over the recall.
Foreign brands do well in China's baby food market because parents are willing to pay a premium to guarantee quality and safety.