Explained: The controversy surrounding Maggi Noodles

Has Maggi broken food laws? Is it harmful for you? Indian Express explains the controversy over India’s favourite instant noodles.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | Updated: June 5, 2015 2:03 pm
Maggi, Maggi ban, Maggi ban in India, Maggi MSG, MSG, MSG in Maggi, Maggi noodles, Maggi India, Maggi news, Nestle, India News, #ExpressExplained, Indian express Nestle’s Maggi Noodles is facing the heat in several parts of India

What is the controversy around Maggi? What have tests shown?

A officer of the UP Food Safety and Drug Administration based in Barabanki ordered tests on a dozen samples of Nestle’s Maggi instant noodles at the state laboratory in Gorakhpur, and repeat tests at the Central Food Laboratory in Kolkata, a referral lab.

The Gorakhpur lab tested for monosodium glutamate (MSG) to check Nestle’s claim that Maggi had none. Both tests found MSG; in addition, the Kolkata lab found “very high quantities” of lead — 17.2 parts per million — according to UP authorities.

Must read: Nestle’s Maggi noodles faces heat across India, fails tests in Delhi

Based on the findings, UP FDA filed a complaint in a Barabanki court. On Monday, Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan directed the statutory regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), to conduct nationwide tests on Maggi. Consumer Affairs Additional Secretary G Gurucharan said all parameters, not just lead and MSG, would be tested.

What rules govern “instant noodles” (such as Maggi) under FSSAI?

According to Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011, MSG, a “flavour enhancer”, should not be added to food for infants below 12 months. MSG is not permitted in over 50 items, including “Pastas and noodles (only dried products)”, but is allowed in the seasoning used for noodles and pastas.

Under Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011, permissible levels of lead range from 0.2 parts per million in infant milk substitute and infant foods to 10 ppm in categories like baking powder, tea, dehydrated onions, dried herbs and spices flavourings. For instant noodles included in the “foods not specified category”, the permitted level of lead is 2.5 ppm.

Also read: Centre framing new law to deal with Maggi-like cases, says Paswan

Instant noodles like Maggi are identified under food category code 6.4.3, which includes “pre-cooked pastas and noodles and like products” that are “pre-gelatinised, heated and dried prior to sale”. These categories of food are governed by Codex international standard 249, standards of food safety recognised by WHO. The masala used in these noodles is identified in code 12.2, which includes herbs, spices, masalas, seasonings, and condiments (eg., seasoning for instant noodles), where the use is “intended to enhance the aroma and taste of food”, according to FSSAI regulations.

Why do noodles have MSG and lead?

MSG stimulates the nervous system and makes food appear tastier. It is widely used in “Indian Chinese” food. The US FDA says MSG is “generally recognized as safe”, the same as salt, pepper, vinegar and baking powder. Glutamate is present in many natural foods including tomato, mushroom, fungi and cheese. In “extreme cases”, MSG may cause some reactions in the body; “however, researchers have found no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms,” according to a Mayo Clinic note on allergies.

The time and frequency of exposure has a bearing too. “Even if a product is satisfying MSG limits, and one is consuming it in large quantities or very frequently, it may be harmful,” said Dr Uday Annapure of Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.

Read full report on Maggi row here

The lead, according to scientists, may come from the raw materials — water or flavouring material — or packaging, or the curling agent. “Lead is not an essential component of noodles. Raw materials are not periodically evaluated in India; before FSSAI introduced new regulations in 2011, we were following the PFA Act of the 1950s. Regular checks of raw materials will help generate a database of possible toxic components for every ingredient, we will know where these are coming from. Such tests should be conducted at least every five years,” Dr Annapure said.

What does Nestle say?

Nestle India said on May 21, “We do not add MSG to our Maggi noodles sold in India and this is stated on the concerned product. However, we use hydrolysed groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour to make Maggi noodles sold in India, which all contain glutamate. We believe that the authorities’ tests may have detected glutamate, which occurs naturally in many foods.”

FSSAI-approved testing methods for MSG only test for glutamic acid, which is a component of several foods, including hydrolised vegetable proteins. “Tests in India are not as sensitive as those in developed countries, where individual sources of every component can be identified,” Dr Annapure said.

Must read: Court directs FIR against Amitabh, Madhuri, Preity

Nestle India has also said it “regularly monitors” for lead, including testing by accredited laboratories. On June 1, the company said it had submitted samples from almost 600 product batches to an “external laboratory” for an “independent analysis”, but did not identify the lab. It also said it had conducted in-house tests on 1,000 samples at its accredited laboratory. “These samples represent around 125 million packets. All the results of these internal and external tests show that lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations and that Maggi noodles are safe to eat. We are sharing these results with the authorities,” Nestle said.

Are brand ambassadors culpable too?

Consumer Affairs official Gurucharan said on Monday said brand ambassadors and retailers who sold Maggi “with knowledge” about their side effects would be “liable for action” if FSSAI identified irregularities. “They would be liable for action if the advertisements are found to be misleading. It becomes a misleading advertisement if it is found that the product does not have the attributes that the manufacturer professed. And if the brand ambassador has promoted that product and said specifically that the product has those attributes, they are also certainly liable for action,” Gurucharan said. Courts in Muzaffarpur and Barabanki on Tuesday ordered FIRs against Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta for endorsing Maggi.

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  1. Manish Garg
    Apr 23, 2016 at 11:57 am
    Codex international standard 249, standards of food safety recognised by WHO
    1. A
      Jun 3, 2015 at 3:20 pm
      There is no Point in discussing about the presence of MSG & lead in variety source. We cannot justify / support maggi to sell its unhealth product by telling that other foods, water in India is unhygienic. Only the real issue is that Nestle has not followed the law of land. It is there duty to sell the prodcut which adhere the food standard s present in India.
      1. A
        Ajoy Daspurkyasha
        Jun 17, 2015 at 9:10 am
        Dr.V. Prakash has received "Padmashree" from Govt of India------speak volumes in itself that India has taken Indian Food Scientists very respectfully to guide the country in the matters of food and its safety. The then Maharaja of Mysore has donated the entire palace "Cheluvamba Mansion" for Food researchers in India even though he had to deprive his daughter for that palace which now is the epitome of success of India's and for that matter one of the world's most advanced food research establishment in which Dr. V Prakash was Director earlier for quite some time. India has world-standard food analytical laboratories with qualified staff comparable to any advanced country of the world. This we can easily understand from the food safety related research paper publications in various food journals of the world . Application of advance d analytical instruments are very common in many food research and food testing laboratories in India. Moreover,I have noticed that India's food inspectors are doing marvelous work to catch the serious lapses in processed foods in terms of food safety. The food safety alarm against MAGGI first rang at Barabanki’s Food Safety Unit where the excess lead and MSG presence was detected. Kudos and 3 cheers to Barabanki’s Food Safety Unit. My heartfelt congrats to Mr. V K Pandey and Mr. Sanjay Singh for their praiseworthy in exposing MAGGI about MSG presence and excess lead content to let the consumers of India know through FSSAI,New Delhi and definitely set an example not only before all the food inspectors of India but also before all the food inspectors of the entire Globe as because processed food manufacturing and consuming are happening in a global scenario. I will like to cite 2 more distinct examples that India is second to none in terms of food safety. On a comparative-scale India's international image in food is very praiseworthy Dr. Binay Ranjan Sen was FAO Director General from 1956 to 1967 and Codex Alimentarius Commission (The Universal Commission on Food Law ) was born in 1963 Mr. Sanjay Dave , the present FSSAI Advisor ,New Delhi was the Chairman of Codex Alimentarius Commission (The Universal Commission on Food Law ) from 2011-2014 . 3 times Chairmanship in Chairman of Codex Alimentarius Commission (The Universal Commission on Food Law ) in itself a big achievement for Mr. Sanjay Dave , the present FSSAI Advisor ,New Delhi and for India. This speak in volumes that India's standing in food in international stage is unputdownable and India's food regulators are well equipped in knowledge and infrastructure to stop the menace of unhealthy processed foods and will FSSAI will always do their best to protect the public health of utmost importance.
        1. D
          Jun 3, 2015 at 5:59 pm
          What Dr Annapure said is correct. We need to test the ingredients also. Remember that companies like Nestle have detailed process & verification mechanisms for their products. If their products show lead then one needs to be concerned about the other products on the shelf. Also one cannot be sure of the water in our taps, vegitables we cook at homes and all that. Nestle will fight this case with Govt and will follow legal outcomes. But what about every food item around us?
          1. R
            Apr 25, 2017 at 5:55 pm
            Purely from this case's perspective it is Nestle's responsibility to show that the end product conforms to safety standards. If the raw materials are the source of the problem then Nestle has to find other suppliers or discontinue the product.
          2. Asish Banerjee
            Jun 3, 2015 at 9:06 am
            In this country people have to starve and swallow something to fight against hunger. Who care for the quality? I wonder that suddenly a system has started functioning painstakingly against a definite item. I don't know if there is anything to smell a rat behind. It is the duty of the State itself to come forward with such checking events of various commodities of different nature on its own to prove the drive tangible.
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