The Delhi government on Wednesday banned the sale of Maggi noodles for 15 days, deepening manufacturer Nestle India’s troubles as the country’s food safety regulator ordered nationwide tests of the instant snack amid mounting health concerns.
The decision came after 10 out of 13 samples of the popular “two-minute” snack failed laboratory tests in Delhi and were found to be unsafe, containing lead exceeding the permissible level.
“The government asked Nestle to recall all Maggi noodle packets from the national capital. The product can be reintroduced only after proper testing and assessment,” said Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain, who met officials of the multi-national food giant.
The Delhi ban is the latest blow for the beleaguered subsidiary of Swiss food giant Nestle, whose products are already facing an investigation in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, among other states.
The Indian Army also issued an advisory on Wednesday asking its personnel not to consume Maggi noodles and directed military canteens to set aside the existing stock of the popular snack until further orders. The order covers over 1000 army canteens and the complete 13-lakh strong army. "The advisory is effective till further order," an Army official said
From roadside vendors to middle-class kitchens, Maggi is hugely popular in the country. The instant noodles in a familiar yellow packet contribute to over a quarter of the company’s revenues.
But sales have plunged since April when laboratory tests in Uttar Pradesh showed the product contained lead and the chemical flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) at levels higher than the legal minimum. Since then, at least 10 states have either ordered the withdrawal of the popular snack from shops or sent samples for testing, prior to taking action against Nestle, whose shares have slumped over 10% amid widespread panic over safety standards.
State-owned retail outlets in Kerala were asked to withdraw these products, and Karnataka and Haryana ordered random lifting of samples for scrutiny. Punjab, Odisha and Rajasthan too have decided to put the snack through lab tests. Samples of Maggi in Goa have not shown any traces of MSG and lead, a senior official said.
Watch: Has Delhi given up on Maggi?
The Future Group, which runs the Big Bazaar stores across the country, also banned its sale. Furthermore, the Delhi government decided to initiate a case against the company for selling unsafe products and fine it for misbranding because it didn’t mention MSG as an ingredient though it was found in five samples.
“It is a possibility that this particular batch was not proper, so we have given them an opportunity to rectify. Samples of other brands of instant noodles will also be picked up for testing,” Jain said. The government also plans to toughen food adulteration guidelines, he added.
The Centre too has slapped a complaint against the manufacturer with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) using a provision for the first time from the nearly three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act.
Describing the alleged lapses related to food safety standards in Maggi noodles as a “serious issue”, food and consumer affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan said the NCDRC will investigate the matter and take appropriate action.
Nestle India, however, said it hadn’t received any order from central or state authorities for recall of Maggi noodles. In West Bengal, authorities expanded the investigation by sending samples of a few popular brands of other instant noodles, potato chips, similar snacks and bottled drinking water to laboratories.
According to medical experts, excessive intake of lead can cause damage to the kidneys, bones and nervous system. It is particularly harmful to children and can cause learning disorders. Health experts say MSG, often used as a flavour enhancer in processed food and in some restaurants, can damage the nervous system with long-term use.
Inputs from Agencies, HTC in Chandigarh, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Jaipur