Last year, there was this company that wrapped up over Rs 10,000 crore in gross domestic sales, and then there was this district food officer in Barabanki.
Today, the tale of one will never be complete without the story of the other.
It was V K Pandey who took the first step nearly 15 months ago against Nestle’s Maggi Noodles that is now facing an avalanche of tests across the country for allegedly flouting food safety norms.
Pandey is now being hailed as a hero in the local media and says he’s trying hard to avoid the spotlight.
“Whatever I did was as a public servant. I have nothing against Maggi, and now it is just one of the many court cases we have to deal each year. The courts will look into the matter, I do not want unnecessary tension,” Pandey said.
According to UP official, it all started with a “routine check” on March 10, 2014, when he led a team that collected samples of Maggi noodles from a retailer in Barabanki.
Sixteen days later, the Government Regional Public Analyst Laboratory in Gorakhpur, one of the state’s six food testing labs, confirmed the presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer that officials said is not listed on the noodle packets.
“At this juncture, the company was sent a notice and asked if it wanted to appeal and on on July 22, 2014, when Nestle filed an appeal, the Maggi samples were sent to Central Food Laboratory, Kolkata,” said Ram Araj Maurya, additional commissioner (administration), UP Food Safety and Drug Administration Department.
This April 7, the Kolkata test results confirmed the presence of MSG, as well as lead “in high quantity”, said Maurya.
“The maximum permitted amount of lead can be 2.5 parts per million (ppm), but in the samples, it turned out to be 17.2 ppm, which made them unsafe,” Maurya said. “As for MSG, the Maggi packets carry a message that says ‘No added MSG’,” he added.
“It was Pandey’s own initiative. We don’t ask our officers to go after anyone, unless there is a serious cause for caution, such as during festivals. Nonetheless, we encourage them to not differentiate between national or international brands. The focus should be on collecting samples of food products which are consumed a lot,” said Maurya.
After the Maggi case hit the headlines, stories hailing Pandey are doing the rounds in Barabanki. One of them is about how he collected samples of the popular Wahid Biryani, when the Lucknow-based brand set up a stall in the district during the annual Dewa Mahotasav.
The Maggi sample was among 18,000 collected by the state FDA in UP on an average each year, said officials. Of these, around 15 per cent fail the tests and five per cent are termed “unsafe”, they added.
After the Maggi results were out, the UP FDA moved to withdraw the batch of about 2 lakh packets manufactured in February 2014. “We ensured 100 per cent compliance of the order,” said P K Singh, UP FDA commissioner.
“Currently, several districts are in the process of collecting samples of the noodles, and many have already done so. Apart from Maggi, we are also collecting samples of other noodle brands, too,” Singh said.
On May 28, the FDA decided to file a case in the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Barabanki district. “The case has been lodged against Nestle India Limited, an Easy Day outlet in Barabanki and its Delhi-based parent firm, and against their senior officials Mohan Gupta and Shabab Alam,” Pandey said.
“We are getting letters from Nestle almost everyday, with them saying that it is an old and trusted brand and that they are following the specified limits as per several tests. But we have proof that the permissible limits were crossed, the courts will decide now,” Maurya said.
As for Pandey, it’s business as usual. “I just collected the samples, the credit should go to our officers who work harder,” he said.