PepsiCo, the maker of Pepsi, Tropicana, Quaker Oats and Frito Lay, among other products, was pulled up by the Bombay High Court on Tuesday for using raw materials that had passed their ‘best before’ dates.
The court refused to rule in favour of the multinational, which has challenged the two-day suspension of its licence to manufacture potato chips and other food items at its MIDC unit in Ranjangaon in Pune district.
A final decision in the case is likely to be taken today.
The Food and Drugs Administration’s (FDA) Pune joint commissioner had ordered the suspension after food inspectors found that the firm’s Ranjangaon unit was using raw materials after their ‘best-before dates’ and thus allegedly violating the provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.
Government advocate Sameer Patil said the FDA had raided the manufacturing unit after receiving complaints that larvae were found in one of PepsiCo’s food products.
The firm’s lawyer, Janak Dwarkadas, argued that using raw material after its specified ‘best-before date’ did not necessarily mean the end product would be adulterated. Dwarkadas said the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, prohibited the distribution of adulterated food items unfit for consumption and that a food product may be “satisfactorily good even beyond its best-before date”.
His arguments, however, failed to impress the division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
“Would you do it in the US?” the judges asked.
When Dwarkadas insisted that “it does not mean that we have given false guarantee to our consumers”, the court said: “Yes, you have”. “You are extending the best-before life of your raw material by using it beyond its best-before date,” it pointed out.
PepsiCo had moved high court after the FDA commissioner dismissed its appeal on April 17. The suspension order was given in 2009 – meant for June 20 and 21 – and the court decision will determine if the order will be implemented, that is, whether the multinational will have to stop manufacturing at its Ranjangaon unit for two days or not.