SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China ordered widespread checks on dairy products and a recall of tainted items as a scandal that began with powdered baby formula and spread to milk sparked an outcry from China's trading partners.
Malaysia joined neighboring Singapore in banning Chinese milk imports while a dairy company in Japan pulled Chinese products from supermarket shelves following a similar move in Hong Kong after products were found contaminated with potentially deadly melamine.
China's State Council, which ordered the comprehensive checks, vowed to punish enterprises and government leaders responsible for the scandal, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Friday.
"Local authorities should rectify the dairy industry so as to bring a fundamental change to the dairy market and products," Xinhua quoted the council as saying.
The council also called on medical authorities to give free examinations and treatment to infants who fell ill after drinking contaminated milk, Xinhua said.
Panicked parents have crowded China's hospitals and demanded redress since officials and the Sanlu Group, the country's biggest maker of infant milk powder, said last week that babies developed kidney stones and complications after drinking milk made from powder tainted with melamine, a compound used in making plastics.
At the latest count, 6,244 children have become ill, four have died and 158 are suffering acute kidney failure.
A government food quality watchdog in China has said nearly 10 percent of milk and drinking yoghurt samples from three major dairy companies contained melamine.
The nitrogen-rich compound can be added to watered-down milk to get past quality inspections, which check for nitrogen to measure protein levels.
Malaysia has banned imports of milk products from China with immediate effect, although the country's health minister said there were no imports of dairy items from China, the Bernama state news agency said late on Friday.
Singapore banned all dairy imports from China on Friday while the European Union demanded an accounting of what had gone wrong.
On Thursday, Hong Kong recalled dairy products of one Chinese company after authorities found eight of its 30 products, including ice-cream and yoghurt ice bars, contained melamine.
Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety said late on Friday that Nissin Foods Company was recalling a boxed dessert which was manufactured by Qingdao Kangda Foodstuffs and used Yili milk product as an ingredient.
Japanese media reported on Saturday that Marudai Food Co would voluntarily recall some products procured by a Chinese subsidiary and sold in Japan that it suspected may contain melamine. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Almost one-10th of liquid milk and yoghurt batches from China Mengniu Dairy Co and Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co contained melamine, which is banned in food. The substance was also found in several samples of dairy products from the Bright Dairy group.
Starbucks Corp said its 300-plus cafes in mainland China had pulled milk supplied by Mengniu. Starbucks said no employees or customers had fallen ill from the milk.
Quality officials said most Chinese milk was safe, trying to shore up public trust already shaken by a litany of food scares involving eggs, pork and seafood in recent years.
The Chinese quality watchdog also said melamine-tainted milk would not make adults sick unless they drank more than two liters a day.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine said 3,215.1 tons of milk powder had been pulled from shelves or recalled across the country as of Friday morning.
(Additional reporting by Ran Kim in Tokyo)
(Editing by David Fox)