Nestle India could be in hot water as Maggi fails quality test again

Over two years after its worst food safety controversy, the maker of the popular instant-noodle brand has run into trouble in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Authorities in the district of Shahjahanpur have slapped a fine of Rs45 lakh ($69,859) on Nestle India after samples of its Maggi noodles tested positive for high levels of ash content in a local food-testing laboratory.

The authorities have also fined three distributors and two sellers of the brand, the Press Trust of India reported on Nov. 29.

Nestle’s Maggi may be in a soup again in India.

Nestle India has so far denied the allegations, stating that “incorrect standards” have been applied to the testing of the samples. The company also emphasised that the samples date back to 2015.

In an emailed statement, the company said that “while we have not received the orders passed by the adjudication officer, we have been informed that the samples are of year 2015 and the issue pertains to ‘ash content’ in Noodles.” Nestle India added that it will “file an appeal urgently once we receive the order.”

This turn of events is somewhat reminiscent of Nestle India’s 2015 nightmare when Maggi noodles tested positive for high levels of lead and higher-than-permissible levels of monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Then, too, it was an Uttar Pradesh lab that first brought bad news, though it was one operated by the state’s Food Safety and Drug Administration.

Soon, labs across the country were reporting the product for its high lead and MSG contents, and state after state went on to ban it. On June 05, following an order from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Nestle withdrew all variants of Maggi noodles from the market, destroying over 35,000 tonnes of the product. A long-time national favourite, Maggi noodles’ share went from 80% to nothing in India’s Rs3,400 crore ($527 million) instant noodles market following the debacle.

With Maggi accounting for almost 25% of Nestle India’s annual sales back then, this was a huge blow to the Swiss company.

However, it successfully got the ban lifted following a legal tussle with the FSSAI. And slowly but steadily, it managed to claw its way back onto market shelves, backed by extensive marketing campaigns and over two dozen product launches. As of January 2017, it was once again India’s top noodles brand with a 60% market share.

The 2015 episode pushed Nestlé India and other makers of packaged noodles to seek standards specific for instant noodles in India. “The standards have since been introduced and the product complies with these standards”, Nestle said in its latest statement. In September 2017, Nestle and FSSAI even joined hands to set up a food safety institute at the former’s research and development centre in Manesar, Haryana.

Now, that hard-earned comeback for Maggi could be under threat again.

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