Maggi is an international brand of instant soups, ketchups, sauces, stocks, seasonings and instant noodles. It is the instant noodles that have gained popularity amongst Indians, young and old alike, over the years. Owned by Nestlé since 1947, the original company was founded in Switzerland in 1872 by Julius Maggi.
Composition of Maggi noodles
Maggi noodles is essentially made of wheat flour, edible vegetable oil, salt, wheat gluten, mineral (Calcium carbonate) and Guar gum. The instant noodles packet also contains a sachet of masala TASTEMAKER inside which is to be added to the noodles after preparation in boiling water. The masala contains a number of ingredients including hydrolyzed groundnut protein, mixed spices, noodle powder, sugar, edible starch, salt, edible vegetable oil, acidifying agent (Citric acid), mineral (Potassium chloride), color (Caramel IV-ammonia sulphite Process), flavor enhancer (Disodium 5′- ribonucleotides) and raising agent (Sodium hydrogen carbonate). It does not contain any added monosodium glutamate (MSG), as per information mentioned on the label.
The Food Safety and Drug Administration (FDA) in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has recently found high levels of lead and MSG in two dozen packets of Maggi noodles tested and issued a notice to Nestlé to recall 2 lakh packets of the product from the state. India’s favorite snack is now under the scanner. Following UP, other 2 states – Gujarat, & Maharashtra, – are also carrying out checks of the product before taking further steps.
Lead and MSG: What does FSSAI say?
As indicated above, the root cause of the controversy lies in the contamination of a certain batch of Maggi noodles by excess levels of lead and MSG in UP.
Lead is a heavy metal that is found in nature. It can enter the human food chain by way of contamination through pesticide residues. If ingested, lead is poisonous to animals and humans, affecting the nervous system and causing brain damage. Excessive lead also causes blood disorders in mammals. Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates both in soft tissues and the bones. Lead poisoning is not new, but rather, is age-old. It has been documented from ancient Rome, ancient Greece, and ancient China. As per the FSSAI guidelines, the safe permissible limit of lead is 2.5 ppm by weight, whereas the samples of Maggi noodles contained 17 ppm of lead, which is 7 times higher than the permissible limit.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant naturally-occurring non-essential amino acids. MSG is found naturally in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, and other vegetables and fruits. MSG is used in the food industry as a flavor enhancer with an umami taste that intensifies the meaty, savory flavor of food, as naturally occurring glutamate does in foods such as stews and meat soups. MSG as a flavor enhancer balances, blends and rounds the perception of other tastes. It is particularly popular in Korean, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given MSG a “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” designation.
Popular belief goes that large doses of MSG can cause headaches, nausea and other feelings of discomfort collectively known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, although controlled studies have failed to identify such symptoms. MSG, available under the trade name Ajinomoto™ is used in dishes such as chilly chicken, chilly paneer, fried rice, chow Mein, chicken soup, chicken Manchurian etc. As per the FSSAI guidelines, MSG is not permitted in pastas and noodles (dried products). However, it should be noted that although MSG is not added in Maggi noodles, some of the ingredients can be a natural source of glutamate, which might have tested positive. Currently, FSSAI has guidelines for maximum permissible limits of MSG to be added to canned crab meat (500mg/kg maximum) only. But there are no guidelines currently available for the maximum limit of naturally occurring glutamate in other food products.
The FSSAI prescribes that every advertisement for and/or a package of food containing added Monosodium Glutamate shall carry the following declaration, namely,
|This package of (name of the food contains added)………… MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE NOT RECOMMENDED FOR INFANTS BELOW – 12 MONTHS|
The future of Maggi noodles
Maggi was among India’s five most trusted, brands according to the 2014 Brand Equity survey. These recent developments could be a problem for Nestlé, who owns 60% of the shares in the instant noodle market category. It may not only potentially hurt the trusted brand name, but could also hit Nestlé’s growth trajectory in India. According to a January 2015 research report by a French banking and financial services firm, currently, the prepared dishes and cooking aids category, which includes Maggi, contributes nearly 30% of Nestlé India’s revenue. This is the second largest revenue earner after milk products and nutrition, which forms 43% of the sales. Nestlé is also facing the heat from local companies like ITC and Amul among others, who are increasingly making their presence felt in this segment. Now, with Maggi being in a tight spot, rivals will surely be wanting to take a share of Nestlé’s market. Nestlé will have to come up with a clever and innovative strategy in order to get Maggi up and running once more.
As for the consumers, this is not the first time that a reputed food brand has fallen on hard times. Giants like McDonald’s, KFC, Cadbury’s, Coca Cola, Pepsi and others have all been in the news for the wrong reasons in the past. Today the controversy with Maggi can actually happen with any other brand, so this may be regarded as a “wake-up call” for all consumers to be vigilant and take interest in what they’re consuming, so that they can lead a safe and healthy life.