At least 12 countries – from Indonesia to Kenya to Colombia – have banned Chinese dairy products amid fears over a widening tainted milk scandal that has killed four Chinese babies and sickened thousands of others.

Worries that compromised ingredients may have contaminated other foods like yogurts, cookies and candies have led several more countries, from Canada to Australia, to step up testing of Chinese imports.

Alarm bells

As the reports of sick babies multiplied – with at least five reported outside the mainland in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau – even countries that don't import Chinese dairy began sounding alarms.

The European Union urged customs authorities on Monday to intensify checks on imports of "composite products", such as bread or chocolate, to ensure they contain no traces of contaminated milk. Growing public fears prompted some schools and stores to pull more products as a precaution.

Even major international food makers such as Kraft Foods were hit by unconfirmed rumours of recalls of numerous snacks, including Oreo cookies and M&Ms. The crisis was initially thought to have been limited to Chinese milk powder laced with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertiliser that can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.

Since the scandal broke two weeks ago, Bangladesh, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Burundi, Kenya and Gabon have placed at least partial bans on Chinese dairy imports or foods that may contain milk.

Sweet warning

New Zealand's Food Safety Authority has found the industrial chemical melamine in imported Chinese White Rabbit Creamy Candies and warned that people should not eat them.

As this developed, British supermarket chain Tesco announced it is withdrawing White Rabbit candy from its shelves.