U.S. health officials are beginning to check all shipments of toothpaste coming from China, following reports of tainted products in other countries, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Food and Drug Administration has no evidence that contaminated toothpaste has made its way into the United States but is taking the step as a precaution, agency spokesman Doug Arbesfeld said.
China -- the second-largest exporter of toothpaste to the United States behind Canada, according to the FDA -- has been at the forefront of growing concerns about its standards as well as the U.S. government's ability to monitor foods and other products.
The FDA's action comes after the lethal chemical diethylene glycol was found in toothpaste sold in the Dominican Republic and Panama.
It follows a wave of concern over pet food from China containing another toxic chemical, melamine, thought to have sickened thousands of U.S. cats and dogs and made its way into livestock feed.
"We are going to be sampling and testing all shipments of toothpaste that come from China," Arbesfeld said. "We're doing this as a precautionary measure. We have no evidence that toothpaste containing diethylene glycol has entered the country."
Tests on product pulled from shelves in Panama showed they contained high levels of diethylene glycol, used in engine coolants. Investigators in that country said two toothpaste brands were imported illegally from China through a free-trade zone.
Tainted toothpaste has also been reported in Australia, Arbesfeld said.
It was not immediately clear which brands of toothpaste sold in the Unites States are made in China.
A representative of Johnson & Johnson's McNeil-PPC Inc., which makes Rembrandt toothpaste, could not be immediately reached.
A spokeswoman for Colgate-Palmolive, maker of Colgate toothpaste, said the company did not import toothpaste into the United States from China.
A Procter & Gamble spokeswoman said Crest brand toothpaste was American-made.
Lori Lukus, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline Plc's consumer unit, said the company's Aquafresh product was made in the United States.
Chinese officials have said they plan to strengthen domestic food safety even as worries grow about its manufacturers' use of toxins and fake ingredients.
Earlier on Wednesday, China called for an investigative team to probe the toothpaste incidents.
Arbesfeld said the FDA was beginning its work immediately and would continue for 90 days, although that could be extended, he added.
Arbesfeld added the agency had been in contact with health officials in the other affected countries as well as China.