The heat rose on Nestlé’s Maggi noodles across the country Tuesday with the Delhi government saying its tests had found the popular snack unfit for consumption and Kerala imposing a temporary ban on the product at 1,200 state-run outlets.
Officials in at least eight other states — Haryana, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Tamil Nadu — said they have sent samples of the product for testing at government labs.
And, a court in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur directed police to register an FIR against two Nestle officials and Bollywood stars, Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, for their commercial association with the brand.
The crackdown followed a directive issued by the Food Safety of Standards Authority of India (FSAAI) asking all states to test samples of the product at laboratories notified by the authority.
The directive was issued after tests ordered by UP’s Food Safety and Drug Administration reportedly found monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer that officials say is not listed in Maggi packets, and “very high quantities”of lead in the noodles.
Nestle India denied the charges and said the product was found “safe to eat” after it conducted tests on samples in-house and in an external laboratory, and that they were cooperating with authorities on further tests.
Amid the nationwide crackdown (see box), the biggest development of the day was Delhi government officials saying that 10 samples of Maggi were found having lead exceeding the prescribed limits of 2.5 parts per million, and five samples of the “taste maker” had MSG “without a proper declaration in the label”.
“This falls under the category of misbranding. The claim on Maggi packets is that they don’t use any MSG in the product,” said a Delhi government spokesperson.
The state government has also decided to initiate a case against the company and impose a fine for “misbranding”, officials said, adding that Nestle officials would be summoned.
Sources said the Delhi government has also called a meeting of Health Department officials on Wednesday to take a decision on whether the product needed to be banned.
Earlier, officials in the office of Kerala’s Civil Supplies Minister Anoop Jacob confirmed that the state’s civil supplies corporation, a government undertaking, had ordered a temporary ban on the sale of Maggi noodles in the 1,200 outlets run by it. “However, there is no ban on the sale of the product in outlets and stores in the open market,” an official said.
In Haryana, Health Minister Anil Vij said that the state has picked random samples for tests. “If the alleged lapses are found true in tests done on the collected samples, strict action as per the law shall be taken against the violators,” Vij said.
In Muzaffarpur, Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Ramchandra Prasad, healing a plea, directed police to register an FIR against Mohan Gupta, Nestle’s managing director, and Sabab Alam, its joint director, apart from the Bollywood stars.
Bachchan had clarified that does not endorse the brand now while Dixit has reportedly said the company has provided an assurance about its product’s quality.
Officials in Karnataka, meanwhile, said they had ordered fresh tests after an initial examination failed to find “any significant level” of lead. And, the Himachal Pradesh government said it was “keeping a close watch on the developments”.
In a statement issued at stock exchanges, Nestle maintained that the company is fully co-operating with officials conducting further tests.
“We have also submitted samples of Maggi Noodles from almost 600 product batches to an external laboratory for independent analysis and we tested samples from almost 1,000 batches at our 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,” the statement said.
(With inputs from ENS in Odisha, Punjab, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and PTI)