Lessons from Maggi


The recent ban over multinational Nestle’s Maggi brand of instant noodles has touched upon issues related to food safety, food standards, food testing, distribution, product recall and many more. The action by the regulators on Maggi snowballed into a major issue with some retail store chains, deciding to be cautious, took the product off the shelf and some companies producing similar types of noodle products withdrawing and recalling their products from the market pending the approval of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The action against Maggi was initiated mainly due to two reasons – presence of lead in excess of the maximum permissible levels of 2.5 ppm, making it unsafe and hazardous for human consumption and misleading information on the label on package reading ‘No added Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)’ when its presence was detected.

As safety of human life is most important, any alleged violations in prescribed limits have to be taken seriously leading to further action. And hence, nobody will argue against the stringent testing of food items. But this leads to two issues, one of general nature and another specific to Maggi.

In the Maggi episode one puzzle is how the tests results were different in different states. Some states having found lead and other content more than the permissible limits while others saying these are within the mandated amount. Is the malfunctioning at manufacturing level – two manufacturing facilities of the same company producing same product but with different ingredient levels or different batches giving different results? Or is it the laboratory malfunctioning?

Another issue raised by many people is that though it is perfectly okay to conduct tests and take action in case of violations in organised sector, what about the uroganised sector – thousands of roadside stalls selling eatables containing dangerous chemicals, colours etc. and in unhygienic way.

This is not to argue that the action should not be taken against the organised sector. But the issue is how to prevent this proliferation of sale of dangerous food at every corner and roadside, harming people’s lives. The shortage of machinery and manpower with the authorities makes it difficult to reach to each of the stalls, collect sample, file case and keep on fighting it for long time. But that cannot be an excuse when the safety of consumer is involved. FSSAI plans to regulate them by way of registration. But the task is gigantic and the progress is slow.

One positive outcome of the Maggi episode appears to be growing awareness among the people about the healthy food and food safety. But it is necessary to translate that awareness into action, particularly in case of street food.

In the absence of adequate machinery with the concerned authorities to tackle the issue, it is the people’s initiative that is needed to stay away from apparently harmful and unhealthy food items.

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