The AAP government in Delhi said on Tuesday samples of Maggi noodles it tested were found “unsafe” and officials of manufacturer Nestle India will be summoned, as the popular instant snack brand faced the heat from authorities across the country.
Only one of the thirteen specimens tested by the Delhi government’s food safety lab was deemed acceptable, with lead levels in ten of them exceeding the prescribed limit while five were inaccurately branded and contained taste-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) without proper declaration.
“On an average, the samples contained 3.5 ppm of lead (anything above 2.5 parts per million is considered too much). The highest was 4.59 ppm,” said health minister Satyendra Jain. “I have asked the Commissioner of Food Safety to study the report. We will take action accordingly.”
The Delhi government has decided to initiate a case against the company for selling an unsafe product and impose a financial penalty for “misbranding”, officials said.
The two-minute noodle brand that arrived in the country in the 1980s turned into a staple for middle-class Indians living away from home who struggle to eat on a small budget and is ubiquitous at school and college canteens to sate sudden hunger pangs.
Officials in several other states, including Haryana, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra, Assam and Tamil Nadu, said they had sent samples for testing at government labs.
However, Nestle India said samples of the noodles, which it tested in an external laboratory as well as in-house, were found “safe to eat” with lead levels within acceptable limits.
“The quality and safety of products are the top priorities for the company,” it said in a statement.
Amid the growing controversy, a Bihar court order on Tuesday directed police to register an FIR against two officials of Nestle India and Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who have promoted the two-minute snack in advertisements. The court in Muzaffarpur said they may be arrested if required.
In Kerala, the state food ministry decided to pull Maggi noodles from government-run supermarkets and grocery outlets, known as Supplyco. This is a major setback for the food giant as Supplyco runs more than 2,000 shops in the state under three brand names.
“Last week, we decided not to take fresh stocks until Nestle is cleared of all charges. Around 1,700 outlets have taken the product off their shelves,” food minister Anoop Jacob said.
The crackdown began after a spot check by the Uttar Pradesh food safety department found elevated levels of MSG and lead 17 times above the permissible limit in packets of the snack during a routine test.
The Centre said it is working on a new law with a provision of life imprisonment to deal with cases in which consumers of essential commodities and food items are duped.
People indulging in “confusing advertisement” to promote such products will also be liable for stringent punishment like life sentence under the new law, union food minister Ramvilas Paswan told reporters in Bihar.