A day before it ordered Nestle to stop the manufacture and sale of nine variants of Maggi Noodles, citing tests that showed “unsafe” lead levels, the national food regulator handed over to states a blacklist containing at least 32 products from Tata Starbucks, a cereal from Kellogg’s, poultry products from Venky’s and even a multivitamin from Ranbaxy.
The list of around 500 products rejected by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was handed over to food safety commissioners attending the authority’s central scientific advisory committee meeting in New Delhi last Thursday.
Many of the products on the FSSAI list — obtained by The Indian Express — were found to contain high levels of sugar, caramel, salt or heavy metals, caffeine and iron fillings, said sources.
The Starbucks products on the list are mainly sauces and syrups, such as a dark caramel sauce, an international chocolate mix and chestnut-flavoured syrup, which go into the making of various kinds of flavoured coffee, tea and other beverages.
Tata Starbucks is a joint venture of Tata Global Beverages and Starbucks Corporation that owns and operates the Starbucks outlets in India.
When contacted, a Starbucks spokesperson said the company was “diligently working with… FSSAI to provide the information relating to our pending applications they have asked for”.
However, staff at two Starbucks outlets in central and south Delhi told The Indian Express that they were not aware of any of their products or ingredients being present on any such government list.
Asked about the company’s products on the FSSAI list, one store staffer said, “Some of these are syrups we use in a lot of our coffees. We are using a lot of syrups mentioned on this list including caramel, chestnut and hazelnut flavours, and vanilla and dark frappuccino powders.”
Starbucks sources told The Indian Express that the rejection of product approvals by FSSAI was on “technical grounds”. “Some of the products on the list may still be in our stores because the rejection of approvals was not on safety grounds, but on technical grounds. We have not been asked to withdraw any products. We have already corrected the technicalities and submitted fresh approval applications.”
However, a note sent by FSSAI to state food commissioners on April 21 clearly directs officials to keep a check on products that have been denied approvals, with the authority warning that “instances have been noticed that a product is still being manufactured, distributed, sold, even after product approvals of the same have been denied by FSSAI…”
The FSSAI list also includes dietary supplements labelled as suitable for specific age groups, including for children as young as 1-3 years, and linked to brands such as Amway.
What’s more, officials admitted that during the short period of time that the FSSAI, which came into being in 2011, had to evaluate “hundreds of applications” from these companies, some of the products were already released in the market pending approval.
On Thursday, the state commissioners were asked to “periodically keep watch on the updated list and take necessary action against any violators”.
The FSSAI list also includes:
1. Special K Red Berries cereal from Kellogg’s.
2. Ready-to-eat chicken items from Venky’s, including chicken Arabic style kofta and crispy chicken burger patty.
3. At least 13 weight gain or protein supplements, including Nutricia’s ProtineX and Zeon Lifesciences Ltd.
4. At least 150 supplements — hair growth products, immune-booster tablets, metabolism-enablers, beauty-enhancers, vitamin sprays, wellness products, natural fruit enzyme supplements and protein – including tablets and capsules of Ranbaxy’s Revital and Amway’s Nutrilite mixed drink flavour for children.
5. Nine variants of energy drinks from four companies, including Monster and Tzinga, a children’s energy drink, juices, and probiotic drinks.
The list also included varieties of ready-to-eat chapati and salad dressings, oils, daal, varieties of tea bags and leaves, cake, organic pulses and cereals, flavour-enhancing syrups, powders, and at least two hair growth products.
1. Sauces and syrups with specific flavours were found to have high quantities of sugar or caramel.
2. Many ready-to-eat products had high quantities of salt or heavy metals.
3. Many tea products contained iron fillings.
4. Energy drinks had high levels of caffeine content, some had ginseng.
The FSSAI list has been updated till April 30 and includes items whose approval applications were “rejected on assessment of risk/ safety of the proposed products by the Product Approval & Screening Committee, and/or the Scientific Panel” of the authority.
A state-level food official, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said, “We were told that during the interim period when FSSAI sought additional queries from companies or when processing of applications took time, many companies were launching their products despite the pending approvals. We were asked to specially check for products from these companies.”
Senior officials said the FSSAI meeting also focussed on dietary supplements, particularly those that promise weight gain. “When companies realised that their products could not pass drug control norms, they were passing them off as food products. FSSAI came up only in 2011, and has been receiving hundreds of applications from the beginning… many products have been rejected only now,” a senior official said.
Explaining the scale of the challenge, another official pointed to the controversy surrounding Maggi Noodles.
“The FSSAI, while checking lab reports from states, found that a product launched by Nestle as a healthy variant of Maggi — Maggi Oats Masala Noodles — was brought into the market without the product approval necessary under Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act,” the official said.
Quoting the FSSAI order on Maggi, the official said: “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.”