Nestle on Thursday made a presentation to the Health Ministry and defended the quality of its Maggi noodles by stating that the samples detected with excess lead in Uttar Pradesh, which triggered nationwide scrutiny, were past the expiry date.
However, five more states — Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Assam — banned the sale of the noodles, and several others collected fresh samples or awaited test results to confirm or deny “unsafe” level of lead in the popular snack.
Of these, Tamil Nadu’s move was the most stringent with a three-month ban that covered other brands too, including Wai Wai Xpress Noodles, Reliance Select Instant Noodles and Smith and Jones Chicken Masala Noodles.
Nestle’s defence of its position centered around an independent analysis of random samples of Maggi noodles from almost 600 product batches submitted to an external laboratory — Kolkata-based Edward Food Research and Analysis Centre (EFRAC).
The May 26 test report shows lead at 0.05 mg/kg, well within the 2.5 mg/kg limit. Other heavy metals tested — arsenic, cadmium, tin and mercury — are also within limits.
These samples represent around 125 million packets, which Nestle claims are over and above samples tested from almost 1,000 batches at its own laboratory.
On MSG, Nestle admitted to a positive result of its presence in some samples, but attributed it to glutamate derived from hydrolysed groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour (glutamate produces a positive result in a test for MSG). The positive result, Nestle Global said, led “to concern among people who buy the product”.
“We were not trying to ‘get around’ the labelling regulations. In response to consumer preference for products without MSG we took the decision that, where none was added, we should make this clear on the label by stating ‘no added MSG’. This is common practice followed by the food industry and complies with Indian food law and regulations,” Nestle said in a post on its global website.
“It is clear that our labelling has led to some confusion and we are fully engaged with the authorities and the food industry to resolve the situation,” it added.
The company has also kept independent directors on its board in the loop on various developments, and shared with them the results of its own lab tests.
Some of these independent directors The Indian Express spoke to refused to comment stating that the issue had legalities, but said they were kept informed about the talks with the government and other authorities.
The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) had also called a meeting of all state food safety commissioners on Thursday.
FSSAI Chief Executive Officer Yudhvir Singh Malik said tests done by Delhi and Kerala were “absolutely authentic” and they took the steps accordingly. Both states were among the first to curb the sale of the product.
”We have also received food reports from Goa, which were found to be inappropriate. We have already sent them back,” he said.
On reports from Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, he said they were found to be wanting and “so they have been requested to take it back and give us proper test report, which will take 2-3 days”.
“As a national regulator, we have to look at it, I may not need to wait for the reports from all the 29 states but I must have a representative kind (of tests reports),” he said when asked if the FSSAI was contemplating action against Maggi noodles. The authority is also taking legal opinion before it can issue any order or advisory.