Food inspectors say they found seven-times the permissible level of lead in a routine test
NEW DELHI—Indian food-safety inspectors said Sunday they had filed a criminal complaint against Nestlé India Ltd. after finding dangerous levels of lead in a batch of Maggi 2-Minute Noodles sold in the country.
The Food Safety & Drug Administration in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh registered a case in a local court Friday, saying it found seven-times the permissible level of lead in a routine test of two dozen noodle packets.
“The level of lead we found was shocking. In fact, it’s life-threatening,” said Vijay Bahadur, the assistant commissioner for food safety in Uttar Pradesh, in an interview.
Mr. Bahadur, a senior FSDA official, said a case had been lodged against Nestlé SA’s Indian arm, its manufacturing unit in Uttar Pradesh, and a supermarket chain, which sold the allegedly contaminated batch. Two senior officials of Nestlé India were also named in the complaint, he said.
If found guilty of violating India’s National Food Safety Act., Nestlé India faces penalties that include a fine to be determined by the court and jail time of at least three years for senior executives, Mr. Bahadur said.
The filing of the criminal complaint follows local media reports earlier this month that Uttar Pradesh food safety officials had allegedly found high lead levels in Maggi noodles. Food-safety inspectors in at least three other Indian states said soon after that they were also testing batches of Maggi noodles sold in supermarkets and grocery stores.
Himanshu Manglik, a spokesman for Nestlé India, said Sunday that the company hadn’t received “anything in writing as far as the court complaint is concerned.”
A statement by the company earlier this month, after the initial reports of the allegedly high lead levels, said that Nestlé was aware its Maggi noodles were under the food-safety scanner in India. It said the company would conduct its own independent checks.
“We will share our results with authorities and continue to collaborate fully with them to bring this matter to a conclusion,” the statement said. “We regularly monitor all our raw material for lead, including testing by accredited laboratories which have consistently shown levels in Maggi Noodles to be within permissible limits,” it added.
Lead, a toxic metal, can enter the digestive tract through contaminated food and water. Consumption, even at low levels, can result in hypertension, kidney damage and, in extreme cases, death, according to the World Health Organization. Children are particularly vulnerable, WHO says, because their bodies absorb nearly five times as much lead as adults do.
The instant noodles—first brought here by Nestlé in the ’80s—started as an after-school snack and quickly became the country’s favorite easy-to-make meal. Maggi comprised 60% of India’s noodle sales last year, according to Euromonitor, the U.K.-based market research firm.
Nestlé sells products ranging from chocolate to coffee powder in India, but derives a substantial portion of its annual revenue—nearly 20%—from its Maggi brand, analysts say.