Maggi, the two minute instant noodles manufactured by the global giant Nestle has been in news for about a week now and for all the wrong reasons. First it was in Uttar Pradesh, that Indias most popular ready to eat noodle brand was literally in a soup. Uttar Pradeshs Food Safety Department allegedly found high level of lead in random samples collected by them. Subsequent to this, many other State Govts across India swung to action and collected random samples and sent them for lab testing. Delhi Govt has already ordered ban on sale of Maggi Noodles within the State for the next 15 days. The Govt of Tamil Nadu has gone a step further and banned not only the sales of Maggi but all other ready to eat noodles across the State for the next 90 days. Presently a total of five states have banned its sales. The UP Food Safety Deptt alleged that it had found lead in Maggi noodles which was seven times the prescribed levels.
Maggi has been sold in Indian markets for more than three decades now and has the biggest market share among the competing brands. Many other brands have been launched by different companies in the recent years, but Maggi continues to be the market leader, although it has definitely lost its market share.
It is interesting to note that a few years back, cola companies in India were accused of using pesticides in their soft drinks. Knowing how big and powerful these companies are, they staged a comeback, through marketing gimmicks. That said, Nestle will find the going tough given its ready to eat noodles are mostly consumed by children. The food safety standards are generally lax in India and the authorities are accused of either being weak or at times complicit. It is not only issues regarding the safety of consuming Maggi noodles, but other packaged food as well. Nothing can be said even about the safety of drinking water or the vegetables, fruit and non veg products consumed in India. The quality standards in the pharma industry are also and there are always concerns with regard to sale of spurious and sub standard drugs.
At the core of this problem is how safety standards in poorer countries like India are weak and the safety of consumers is generally of not prime concern. It also raises concerns about the ability of the regulators to prevent contaminated food reaching the consumers. Incidentally lead is not an ingredient in the manufacture of Maggi noodles, which means this contamination, could have either taken in packaging, storing and probably utensils. There are other metals which, if found in food, beyond prescribed levels, can be hazardous. The consumer in India is often at the risk of consuming something hazardous be it through the use of packaged food or eating at a street vendor or a restaurant. Unless stringent long term measures are not enforced, the consumer is always at the risk of consuming unsafe food.
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