Nestle is in the midst of its campaign to recall and destroy its popular Maggi instant noodles in India. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) banned the product on June 5 after its tests showed that the noodles contained excessive levels of lead. Now a massive logistical effort is underway by Nestle to buy back Maggi noodles from distributors, retail outlets, and consumers, and transport them to five sites where they will be burned. $50 million worth of noodles (totaling 27,420 tons, or 400 million individual packets) will be collected and destroyed, taking at least 40 days.
Nestle insists that its noodles are safe (and has conducted its own tests that it says demonstrate that), but it decided to go forward with a total recall in the hopes of limiting the damage to its reputation by consumer opinion. It can fall a long way down—prior to the FSSAI’s ruling, Maggi had 80% of India’s instant noodle market, and it scored as one of India’s five most trusted brands in a consumer survey conducted last year. The noodles are manufactured in India, but production has now ceased. However, Nestle’s CEO Paul Bulcke said he wants to see Maggi noodles back on the Indian market as soon as possible, and “if we can resolve this fast” then production will resume and Indian jobs will not be at risk.
The impact will be felt outside of India as well, since Maggi also exports the noodles. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said last week it was conducting its own tests on the noodles. And Nestle has been in talks with several African nations’ health ministries regarding the Maggi noodle scare, and even had to withdraw the product from suppliers in Kenya.
The FSSAI, which was established just seven years ago, has its work cut out for it in attempting to impose order and safety in India’s notoriously lax food industry. It has been particularly active in banning items as of late. Last week it deemed the “Restless” energy drink “unsafe” for consumers; three other energy drinks (Monster, Tzinga and Cloud 9) were also previously recalled for using unsafe ingredients.
The Maggi noodle findings spurred the FSSAI to ask food commissioners in all Indian states to test the safety of 33 products from 7 brands of pasta– which had already been approved. And last week it ordered over 20 varieties of instant noodles, including those of Top Ramen, Knorr, and Ching’s Secret, to be recalled from the market because they had not yet received approval. Food safety was not the issue here; bureaucratic delays were. The Calcutta-based Telegraph reported:
Food industry executives have reacted with consternation, saying the national food safety regulator has been sitting over dozens of applications for approvals of products that companies have filed over the past two years. But an executive, who requested anonymity because his company has to deal with the regulator, said: “This is a knee-jerk reaction – we’ve done all that we can for the application process and waiting for approvals for our products.”
The FSSAI rarely provides detailed explanations for many of its decision, making it yet another unpredictable part of doing business in India (which ranks 142 out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2015 data). Fair or not, more recalls are in the cards.