Acting on reports from across the country about lead and mono sodium glutamate (MSG) content in Maggi noodles, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Friday ordered Nestle India to withdraw all nine variants of Maggi instant noodles from the market. The company has been given 15 days to reply to a showcause notice asking why approval for all these products should not be withdrawn.
“Withdraw and recall all the nine approved variants of its Maggi Instant Noodles from the market having been found unsafe and hazardous for human consumption, and stop further production, processing, import, distribution and sale of the said product with immediate effect,” the FSSAI order said.
As the threat of a nationwide ban loomed large, Nestle decided to take the products off the shelves a few hours before FSSAI passed the order.
The FSSAI also noted that a new product, Maggi Oats Masala Noodles with Tastemaker, was launched in the market without product approval necessary under Section 22 of the FSS Act.
“What is disturbing to note is that the company had already released the said product in the market without completing the process of risk assessment and has been promoting its sales. This is illegal and a serious violation of the FSS Act, Rules and Regulations,” it said.
The order comes in the wake of the PMO summoning health secretary B P Sharma to brief the prime minister about the controversy.
Union Health Minister J P Nadda said that his ministry had received reports from all states and assessed them. “We have come to the conclusion that the food safety and standards have not been adhered to by Nestle company and Maggi products and that is why we have given instructions that all nine products (variants) should be recalled from the market,” Nadda said.
Several states, including Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, have already imposed temporary bans on the product pending final test results. The Health Ministry is seeking legal opinion on the future course of action.
The FSSAI order came as Nestle’s global CEO Paul Bulcke, along with the company’s senior management, was addressing the media in New Delhi, asserting that Maggi noodles are safe for consumption.
“The trust of our consumers and the safety and quality of our products is our foremost priority everywhere in the world. Unfortunately, recent developments and growing concerns about the product have led to confusion for the consumer to such an extent that we have decided to take the product temporarily off the shelves, in spite of the product being safe,” said Bulcke. He also pointed out that the company is engaging with the authorities to understand what tests have been conducted, and said that the company does not have the results of any third party tests.
His comments were on the lines of a statement issued by Maggi Thursday night, wherein it promised that the noodles will be back in the market as soon as the current situation is clarified.
Maggi samples tested in authorised laboratories have so far shown three major violations – the presence of lead in excess of the permissible level of 2.5 ppm, misleading label of “no added MSG”, and the fact that Nestle chose to sell Maggi Oats Masala Noodles with Tastemaker without prior risk assessment and product approval.
The sample taken by the UP commissioner of food safety was found to have lead content of 17.2 ppm. In Delhi, 10 of the 13 samples tested were found to have lead content above permissible limits. Gujarat found excess lead in 15 of 29 samples.
In its order, the FSSAI has referred to a document compiled by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to highlight that short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause paralysis, brain damage, anemia, etc. In the long term, there may be effects on the kidneys, reproductive organs and the body’s immune system. In young children, the effects are more pronounced.
MSG, a flavour enhancer, occurs naturally in many food items, but large doses can cause headaches and other symptoms.
Nestle representatives met officials of the FSSAI and the Health Ministry Thursday to discuss the issue. They told the government that high lead content was found as the noodles and tastemaker were tested in isolation and not in the form that the product is consumed — boiled and cooked with water — and also because the samples were kept in the open for a long time before testing.
They blamed the MSG “confusion” on regulations and said they were willing to market the product without the “no added MSG” line in the label. They also cited a court order to justify the marketing of the oats noodles.