Just when India’s favourite instant noodle brand Maggi was about to claim back its dominance over the market, the iconic brand is under pressure, again. Maggi noodle, which had earlier faced a lot of scrutiny and a subsequent market share loss over an alleged presence of lead, is now under a regulator's scanner over alleged violation of another safety norm.
The district food and drug administration officials of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, have sent a legal notice to Nestle India – the makers of Maggi noodle – and its trade partners in the region, seeking Rs 71 lakh as damages and for violation of food safety norms. The notice was issued after the UP FDA found a high level of ash content in the samples of the noodle. According to a PTI report, the Maggi noodle samples were collected from the Shahjahanpur area in November 2016.
While Nestle India is yet to receive a copy of the notice, it told Business Standard that the lab report might have been formed on the basis of quality standards that are now obsolete. However, the question that haunts millions of consumers and its patrons is how the noodle failed a lab test after the matter was settled in 2016, when the country’s apex court had given it a clean chit following stringent tests at independent laboratories across India.
After lead, it's ash:
From the facts that have emerged so far and from a research done by this publication, it prima facie appears that the issue of ash content in packaged food, specifically in case of Maggi noodle, is an ambiguous area. Last time, when Maggi noodle was found to be sub-standard for human consumption, the main issue pertained to the presence of lead in a quantity higher than permissible. This, eventually led to a ban on the products across the country on 5 June, 2015. What followed was a period of uncertainty for the Swiss major in India and elsewhere.
However, this time it is about the presence of high levels of ash in the instant noodle.
After much deliberations, Nestle India, along with other FMCG majors in the country, had in 2016 approached the apex food regulator – the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) -- to revise the limit of ash permissible in food products. Following this, the FSSAI had proposed to double the limit of ash content in packaged foods to two per cent – from the earlier one per cent – in July 2016.
ALSO READ: FSSAI proposes double ash content in noodles
The move came after total ash content in samples of prominent noodle brands like Ching's (1.83 per cent), Hindustan Unilever's Knorr Soupy Noodles (1.89 per cent) and Foodles (2.37 per cent) from GSK Healthcare were higher than the permissible limit, district official Sanjay Singh at Barabanki had alleged.
Confusion over new rules?
However, sources say, the recent case of violation of the standards may be due to confusion over what is the right permissible limit for ash, among the food and drug administration officials. According to an executive from a packaged food maker, who is yet to view the latest lab reports, the new reports may be based on old standards, i.e., one percent of ash in food products.
An official of the FSSAI said they are closely monitoring the developments and will only be commenting when they get a copy of the test reports.
It seems, after the high-pitched drama in 2015 and 2016 over the infamous Maggi fiasco, another potboiler may be in making.