Nestlé in hot water over Maggi noodle scandal
Maggi stock cubes and noodles are a staple of many larders in Asia and the Middle East. (wordpress)
There appears to be no end to the woes of food products giant Nestle India over its popular Maggi noodles, with the Delhi government saying samples it tested were found “unsafe” and the Kerala government removing the brand from state-run outlets.
\What began as a routine inspection of Maggi samples in the Uttar Pradesh town of Barabanki in March has developed into a storm that has led to the two-minute noodles swiftly disappearing from the shelves of stores across the country.
It all began when VK Pandey, a 40-year-old Barabanki-based officer of the Uttar Pradesh Food Safety and Drug Administration, collected samples of Maggi from a store on March 10, 2014 for tests to determine whether the manufacturer was complying with its stated claim that the product doesn’t contain any monosodium glutamate (MSG), a taste enhancer.
A test in a laboratory in Gorkahpur revealed the amount of MSG was more than the prescribed level. When Nestle disputed the finding, further tests in one of the best laboratories in Kolkata confirmed the high MSG levels and detected dangerously high lead content in the Maggi samples.
Against the permissible lead content of 0.01 parts per million, the Maggi samples were contained 17 parts per million, Pandey, who had earlier taken on Britannia for the “wrong” labelling of its non-vegetarian cake, told Hindustan Times.
The discovery has prompted authorities in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Odisha, Gujarat, Bihar, Assam, Punjab, Karantaka, Delhi Tamil Nadu and Kerala to send samples of Maggi for tests to determine if the snack is safe.
In West Bengal, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation collected samples of Maggi from markets across the city for testing. The Maharashtra unit of the Food and Drug Administration has collected samples from Pune, Nagpur and Mumbai for tests to decide if the product needs to be recalled.
The Delhi government said on Tuesday it would launch a case against Nestle India and impose a financial penalty for “misbranding” because samples of Maggi it tested were found “unsafe”.
Only one of 13 samples tested by in a Delhi laboratory was deemed acceptable. Lead levels in 10 samples exceeded the prescribed limit and five were inaccurately branded and contained MSG without a proper declaration.
Kerala’s food ministry decided to pull Maggi from more than 2,000 state-run supermarkets and grocery outlets. “Last week, we decided not to take fresh stocks until Nestle is cleared of all charges. Around 1,700 outlets have taken the product off their shelves,” said food minister Anoop Jacob.
Amid the growing controversy, a Bihar court on Tuesday directed police to register an FIR against two officials of Nestle India and Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who have promoted the two-minute snack in advertisements. The court in Muzaffarpur said they might be arrested if required.
Uttar Pradesh official Pandey said authorities in the state had filed a complaint case against Nestle’s Nagal Kalan Industrial Unit in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi-based Nestle India and the company’s FMCG managers.
“A complete report has been sent to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. It would now decide whether a total recall of the product is required or not,” he said.
Nestle India, in statements posted on its website, contended that Maggi is safe as the results of “internal and external tests show that lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations”.
It said samples of Maggi noodles from 600 product batches were sent to an external laboratory for independent analysis while samples from almost 1,000 batches were tested at a Nestle laboratory.
Nestle said it was cooperating fully with authorities after officials in Uttar Pradesh informed it about elevated levels of lead in a sample of Maggi and MSG in products labeled “no added MSG”.
The firm reiterated it does not add MSG to Maggi though the product contains “glutamate derived from hydrolysed groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour” that can produce a positive result in a test for MSG.
It further said it regularly monitors all raw materials for lead and these tests had “consistently shown levels in Maggi noodles to be within permissible limits”.
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