|Friday, 04 March, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]|
|FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) and noodles seem to be not getting along well for some time now. First, it was Nestle’s Maggi, which was banned for the presence of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and excess lead content.Then Patanjali got a notice for its‘Atta Noodles’ on the ground that they had a licence for marketing ‘Pasta’ but not ‘Atta Noodles.’ The latest additions to the list appear to be Knorr Soupy Noodles, Horlicks Foodles Noodles and Ching’s Hot Garlic Instant Noodles. These products allegedly have more ash than permissible. As per the food authorities, the prescribed maximum limit of 1% ash has been breached in these products, which is a limit prescribed for pasta products.
The dispute relating to Nestle’s Maggi was more of a factual dispute regarding the presence of MSG and excess lead, which has been strongly contested on the basis of lab reports, whereas the ones related to Patanjali and the other three are due to lack of clarity about the scope of the food regulations. The basic premise of the notice issued to Patanjali appears to be opposite to the stand taken in the recent disputes reported for Knorr Soupy Noodles, Horlicks Foodles Noodles and Ching’s Hot Garlic Instant Noodles.
Nature of action
Presence of ash
The second question is what effect the excess ash can have on a consumer. The ash content has been reported to be in the range of 1-3% in the three products. It needs to be mentioned that in many standardised food items, it has been allowed in the much higher range of 5-9%. Therefore, ash content exceeding 1% does not necessarily mean that the food is unsafe and it will have an adverse impact on the consumer. It only implies that the noodles cannot fall in the category of a standardised food item like Pasta.
The third question is whether such products are allowed to be manufactured and sold. As on date, a large number of food products in the market fall under the category of non-standardised food products, as only some food products are standardised. Till a few days ago, there was a doubt whether any non-standardised product could be sold without prior approval or not. Thankfully, that doubt has been set to rest by a recent notification of FSSAI wherein non-standardised products using ingredients used in standardised products or standardised additives have been allowed without any need of prior approval.
The final question is if FSSAI has allowed such non-standardised food products without prior approval, what is the relevance of ash content in excess of the prescribed limit. From the perspective of food safety, it will perhaps not have much relevance because it is not considered unsafe per se. However, from the perspective of the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, the marketers might need to make certain adjustments so that the consumer does not get an impression that it is a standardised product. However, for a resolution of the matter the food authorities would have to take a clear stand as to whether ‘Noodles’ fall under the standardised food category of ‘Pasta/Macaroni Products.’ If, the answer is affirmative, the marketer would have to make certain adjustments in the name of the product but then in that scenario the notice issued earlier to Patanjali would become infructuous. If the answer is in the negative, the current dispute involving Knorr Soupy Noodles, Horlicks Foodles Noodles and Ching’s Hot Garlic Instant Noodles would not have enough basis to survive. In either case, it leaves a lot for FSSAI to ponder as to how to avoid such actions based on contradictory interpretations of the law.If the legal tangle is left unresolved by FSSAI, the food industry cannot hope to have any respite for some time.