Maggi noodles, one of the most popular snacks in India – at par with Samosas, Kachoris, Vadas and the like – that seems to have transcended the junk food barrier, at least in the mind of the public and virtually turned into a staple food, not just for the multitudes living away from homes, but also for families large and small, has been surrounded by a controversy that is fast threatening to engulf the product and leave its legions of admirers disappointed and perhaps, as is the case now in Delhi, unable to buy it in the market – it stands banned in the city for the next 15 days. Surely, a nightmare! Why? We lay bare the controversy. Read on:
Maggi noodles has been under scanner for containing lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a taste enhancer, beyond the permissible levels. MSG is often added to packaged foods, but Nestle India doesn’t mention it in the list of ingredients. The consumption of MSG can cause headache, chest-pain and nausea and is especially harmful to expectant mothers and small children even in small doses.
The controversy began in March 2014, when V K Pandey, Barabanki-based officer of UP Food Safety and Drug Administration collected samples of Nestle’s Maggi noodles from a store (on March 10, 2014) to check whether Nestle India’s claim of not containing MSG in its Maggi Noodles stands true.
The collected Maggi samples were sent to the state laboratory in Gorakhpur, and repeated tests were conducted at the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata, a referral lab. Both tests found MSG, Kolkata lab also found a very high quantity of lead — 17.2 parts per million — according to UP authorities. The permissible level of lead is 2 ppm.
Based on the reports, UP FDA filed a complaint in a Barabanki court. UP FDA in April had asked Nestle India to withdraw a batch of Maggi noodles “which were manufactured in February 2014”.
What does law say about lead and MSG content in food products?
According to Food Safety and Standards Rules, MSG should not be added to food for infants below 12 months and is not permitted in over 50 items including noodles and pasta. However, MSG is allowed in the seasoning used for pastas and noodles.
The permissible levels of lead range from 0.2 ppp (infant milk substitute and infant foods) to 10 ppm in products like baking powder, tea, dried herbs and spices flavourings. The permitted level for instant noodles in the “foods not specified category” is 2.5 ppm.
In law, section 58 and 59 (1) deal with punishment for selling unsafe food. Those involved in manufacturing, selling, distributing or importing unsafe food items are liable foe punishment under the law that ranges from six months of imprisonment to life in prison. There is also a penalty – from Rs 50,000 to Rs 10 lakh – depending on the offence.
What does Nestle India say about Maggi noodles controversy?
On May 21, Maggi shared this post on their Facebook page, “There have been conversations on social media regarding the recall of your favourite MAGGI Noodles. We fully understand your concerns and would want to assure you that MAGGI is neither banned nor is there any order to recall the product being sold in the market.
We would also want to reassure you that MAGGI contains no added MSG and routine tests have consistently shown that lead levels in MAGGI are within the regulatory limits. Quality and safety of our products is topmost priority for us and you can continue to enjoy your MAGGI Noodles without being concerned.”
However, on June 1, they informed that following the reports of elevated levels of lead in Maggi noodles, the company has submitted samples from almost 600 product batches to an external laboratory for independent analysis and have also tested samples at their own accredited laboratory. These samples, representing around 12.5 crore packets, show that lead levels are within the limits specified by food regulations.
Maggi noodles controversy: A timeline
March 2014: In March 2014, a batch of Maggi noodles – manufactured in February 2014 – was tested as part of routine by FDA of Barabanki, a district in Uttar Pradesh.
The results showed high level of lead and MSG in Maggi noodles. Following this a notice was sent to Nestle India for violations of FDA regulations.
July 2014: Nestle challenged the test results. Maggi noodles sample were then sent to central food testing lab in Kolkata. The results of this test came in April 2015 and confirmed the earlier reports.
May 25, 2015: Ram Vilas Paswan said that government will review reports about the presence of “higher” level of lead and MSG Nestle’s Maggi noodles.
May 29, 2015: Madhuri Dixit gets FDA notice for endorsing Maggi; Govt takes ‘serious’ note of Maggi issue; FSSAI to examine
May 30, 2015:
*UP food regulator FSDA filed cases against Nestle India and five others. A local advocate filed a separate case against Amitabh Bachhan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta.
*Madhuri Dixit met Nestle officials, who assured her about the quality of the product.
June 1, 2015:
*Nestle India maintains that lead in tested Maggi samples is within safe limits.
*Maggi brand ambassadors including Madhuri Dixit were warned of action by government if their advertisements found to be misleading.
June 2, 2015:
* Bihar court orders FIR against Maggi brand ambassadors Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who featured in ‘Maggi’ noodles ad, and two Nestle officials.
* Kerala decides to withdraw Maggi, bakeries not to sell any noodle
* After lab tests, Maggi samples found unsafe in Delhi
* Centre framing new law to deal with Maggi-like cases: Paswan
* Maggi samples sent for lab testing in Gujarat
June 03, 2015:
* Delhi govt bans Maggi for 15 days, pulled out of Big Bazaar outlets; other noodles to face test
* Army and Navy canteens asked to set aside Maggi stocks
* Nestle stock hit by Maggi row, sinks 9%
* Assam, West Bengal, other states sent Maggi samples for test, to take decisions in coming days
* Govt refers Maggi issue to the consumer panel to take appropriate action: Ram Vilas Paswan
June 04, 2015:
* Maggi banned for one month in Gujarat
* Maggi banned in Uttarakhand
* Puducherry govt, Arunachal send Maggi noodles for tests
NOTE: Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala and Chandigarh have given a clean chit to Maggi noodles after some samples were found in accordance with the food safety standards.