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The great noodle mystery – Brunner

Tuesday, 18 August 2015
By Laurel Brunner
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The packaging industry is quite amazing in its complexity and poses an absolute chaos of problems and possibilities for packaging printers. One of the more slippery aspects of this industry sector is compliance with health and safety and especially with environmental regulations. These vary around the world both in their detail and in their enforcement. The recent situation in India, where Maggi noodles were banned because they had apparently been mislabelled and contained higher levels of lead than are permissible, is a case in point.

Maggi noodles have been sold in India for more than 30 years and Nestlé maintain that they are “completely safe” and the accusations of contaminants are unjustified. Nestlé chose to withdraw the product from the Indian market, rather than keeping the product on the shelves whilst resolving the problem. The company claims that the concerns are unfounded and that even though the product is safe, Nestlé doesn’t want to confuse their customers. This sounds a little disingenuous and it’s more likely to be a damage limitation manoeuvre to protect the Maggi brand.

Nestlé is however trying to work out what has happened and says that “the trusted Maggi Noodles will be back in the market as soon as the current situation is clarified.” Their efforts for clarity are unstinting. Nestlé is working with authorities in Uttar Pradesh, the state where the problem occurred. The company has also been busy testing samples of the noodles from some 1,000 batches at its own accredited lab, as well as from 600 additional product batches using external testing labs. Getting to the cause of the problem is important because according to Nestlé “the trust of our consumers and the safety of our products is our first priority.”

It’s important that this gets fully resolved because this is a serious contamination. Knowing how the lead got into the noodles will help to identify the bits of the supply chain where process control is lacking. However knowing the cause of the problem, will help other companies as well as Nestlé and its customers. Food processing companies routinely add extra chemicals to their products to preserve them or enhance their flavour. Managing how such additions are controlled is as important as making sure that inks and packaging materials contain no contaminants.

What is really needed is the adoption of common food safety and packaging standards at international, national and local levels. There is a considerable range of international options, ranging from standard label requirements through to restrictions on the packaging used to transport dangerous materials. The problem isn’t a lack of standards, but one of awareness. Too few packaging printers even know standards exist or how to implement them effectively. There is also the problem that local governments aren’t necessarily aware of work done in other geographies that could be applied for the benefit of their citizens.


– Laurel Brunner

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