Lessons from Maggi noodles misfortune

Food business operators have to do stringent self-check of their manufacturing process

Nestle claimed that Maggi Instant Noodles with Taste Maker was safe, as did some of the states that carried out food safety tests. Yet Maggi suffered an Instant ban. In the process, Nestle has sustained huge financial losses and a blow to its reputation. It remains to be seen whether Maggi will be able to regain its status as the nation’s best instant food. However, there are lessons to be learnt here by all those who are in the food business in India.

As one of the world’s most renowned brands, it is a taken that Nestle was doing things right in its manufacturing process. So what went wrong? It is important to mention ‘added ingredients’ on labels, but it is even more important to refrain from making claims which might be difficult or impossible to substantiate. Nestle is paying dearly for having written ‘No added MSG’ on its label in bold.

This labelling can be interpreted to mean that though the manufacturer has not added monosodium glutamate (MSG), the product could contain MSG. If the company suspected that their ‘Tastemaker’ could contain MSG from natural sources (which is possible and accepted) then why did it mislead the unsuspecting consumer into believing there is no MSG in the product. Here, Nestle failed to follow the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulations, which clearly state that “labels cannot be false, misleading or deceptive as they can create an erroneous impression”.

The prescribed FSSAI testing method for MSG cannot differentiate between added/synthetic and naturally occurring MSG/glutamic acid. So food business operators (FBOs) need to test products before making a claim.

Taking cue from Nestle’s misfortunes, ITC has removed the ‘No Added MSG’ tag from its product labels. Best practices are those where food manufacturers do not copy labels of reputed companies, deeming them to be as per regulations, but ensure that their processes meet FSSAI guidelines.

Similarly, lead is also a naturally occurring chemical element found in the soil, water and atmosphere. People get exposed to lead in the environment and from the soil in the process of crop and animal farming. When food items are handled, packaged or transported they can get contaminated from fumes and dust that contain lead. Nestle needs to identify the gaps in its food safety management system (FSMS) as lead has entered its product somewhere in the processing chain from the environment, packaging or through an ingredient.

Under the FSS Act 2006, it is mandatory to have an FSMS programme, which comprises a process flowchart, FSMS plan, and a self-inspection checklist. No FBO can get a licence unless it has submitted a self-declaration for the FSMS programme in compliance with Schedule 4 of Food Safety & Standards (Licensing & Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011. According to the FSMS programme, food chains must follow good manufacturing practices (GMP), good hygienic practices (GHP), and hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP). This detailed process is to ensure that the raw materials are procured, stored, processed, prepared, packaged and sold in a manner that ensures no contaminants enter the food at any stage.

According to FSSAI regulations, contaminants like heavy metal—lead, arsenic, copper, mercury, tin, cadmium, zinc, nickel and chromium—residues and naturally occurring toxins in crop; antibiotics and other pharmacologically active substances cannot be in excess of what is permitted in the FSSR 2011. Food and beverage industries that use water in their manufacturing processes need to get water tested to ensure that there are no heavy metals present in the water as these can contaminate food products.

All raw materials that food manufacturers procure must be standardised and have a test report from an NABL-accredited/ FSSAI-notified lab, stating that the raw material is free from contaminants. Right from procurement to distribution the manufacturing process needs to comply with the FSMS programme and any lapse can lead to contaminants entering food.

All food businesses should thoroughly examine their manufacturing process and identify shortcomings, if any, so as to put procedures into place to avoid unintentional contamination of their food products. Learning from this incident, all FBOs need to exercise caution and carry out a stringent self-check of their manufacturing process so that they remain on the right side of the FSSAI regulations and ensure consumer safety. The need for FBOs to fully understand FSSAI regulations and comply with the same cannot be overemphasised.

The author is founder, Food Safety

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