‘Trust me darling it’s safe…it’s a worm…not Maggi’.
By Rajiv Theodore
NEW DELHI: “Trust me darling it’s safe…it’s a worm…not Maggi”, says the mother bird to its chicks as she beaks the ‘worm’ to her gaping kids– a spoof on the Nestle logo.
The instant noodle from the Nestle stables which had fed many an Indian for the past 30 years has indeed come a long way.
For years, Indian moms, caught in the fast lane had been dishing out this ‘two-minute’ wonder to their young ones, maybe with dads eyeing the aromatic noodle from the corner of their eyes. But this instant food caught the imagination of the entire nation and you could find this in the most unlikely of places: from the icy army outposts on the Himalayas to the dense jungles of Western Ghats.
This ‘comfort food’ was available with ease. Till the bomb dropped.
The ‘two-minute’ Maggi noodles came under regulatory scanner after samples collected in some parts of Uttar Pradesh were tested in the lab and results showed that it contains high amount of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead. Shockingly, it has been found that Maggi contains 17 parts per million lead, while the permissible limit is only 0.01 ppm.
Even the content of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in it was found at levels above the dangerous mark. UP Food Regulatory Authority examined that chemical monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Maggi noodles was higher than the prescribed limit. On the other hand, the company clarified about the amount of lead in Maggi, claiming that it is negligible and amounts to less than 1 per cent.
Maggi has also come on the radar of the US Food and Drug Administration, which has taken samples for testing.
Today, Maggi noodles has been recalled in India. According to estimates, these noodles worth Rs. 320 crore are on the chopping block as 10,000 trucks are busy transporting 27,000 tons of packages to their unusual end, to be used as fuel in cement factories approved by the government.
There they would be crushed and burnt while taking into consideration that it would not dent the atmosphere. The task is by no means a mean one, for it would take at least 40 days and a huge army of workers, about 12000 of them, who would help destroy millions of cartons and pouches of the food after Nestle ordered the biggest recalls in its 100-year history.
Nestle is not new to recalls. In the past five years there have been half a dozen of such instances globally. There was a voluntary recall of KitKat Chunky after shards of plastics were found in them. Similarly, the company initiated another round of voluntary recall after Nesquik chocolate powder had been allegedly infected with Salmonella in certain batches.
In India, too, there were two instances of recall of Maggi brands. The first 23 years back and the second incident in 1997.
The Swiss noodle brand has been in India for the last three decades and hence had reinvented itself today so much that it would be hard to detect its roots which had been seeped in the hoary past of Japanese cuisine.
Instant noodles first came to the Japanese tables through a process of ‘’Flash Frying’’, which incidentally is used still today to produce these items, by post-world war entrepreneurs experimenting in food-scarce Japan of the times. Its predecessor has of course been the Chinese variant which has been served in Japanese restaurants under the name –shina soba (Chinese-style noodles in a broth). This dish was popularized by the Japanese restaurant RaiRaiken in 1910.
But Japanese ingenuity made another twist to the tale. Momofuku Ando, a Japanese business man with an eponymous company had transformed itself into a virtual noodle empire. It had initially transformed this dish into a packaged item that could be within the reach of millions of hungry masses. And to make these humble noodles a winner, Ando called them ramen, from ra (pulled, in this case by hand) and men (noodles, as in the English “chow mein”). Today, “Ramen” is associated globally for instant noodles. It is only in India that the Maggi brand is synonymous as a common noun for instant noodles.
It would take some time to put these ready to eat food back on the plates of the Indians. We may not see riots with Maggi addicts going on a hunger rampage but what is an obvious fallout is the fate of nearly 1,100 contractual workers who have been turned away from a Nestle India plant in Uttarakhand’s Udham Singh Nagar district after production came to a halt after the ban.
(Rajiv Theodore is India Bureau Chief, The American Bazaar)