Popular noodles back on shelves in India after lead scare

NEW DELHI: Maggi noodles are back on shelves in India five months after the popular snack was found to contain lead above permissible limits.

The Indian unit of Swiss food company Nestle said Monday that samples of newly made Maggi instant noodles had been cleared for consumption by three food-testing laboratories in India.

"The rollout has begun today. It has been a challenging period for the Nestle Organisation, and therefore, there is a feeling of satisfaction at bringing back Maggi noodles to the market," Nestle India said in a statement.

Maggi has been reintroduced in 100 cities and towns across India and will be made available soon in more states, said Nestle India Chairman and Managing Director Suresh Narayanan.

Maggi noodles will not be available in eight states that had banned their sale. The company said it was in talks with local governments to lift the ban.

In June, India's Health Ministry ordered the removal of Maggi noodles from stores after tests by several states found high levels of lead. This was after the country's food safety regulator found that the noodles were "unsafe and hazardous" for consumption due to the presence of lead beyond permissible limits.

Nestle India maintained the noodles were safe to eat and challenged the accuracy of the tests. The ban was overturned in the Bombay High Court in August. But the company had to destroy 400 million packets of Maggi products, which cost it more than $67 million.

Narayanan said the company was not immediately considering taking legal action against the food regulator.

"At the moment, we are very clear that we will be focusing on building the brand," he told reporters.

Maggi noodles are a hugely popular snack among school and college students and young working people in India.

The company introduced the quick-cooking noodles to India in the early 1980s, and they can be found in the remotest villages.

The June tests also detected the chemical flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which is not mentioned in the product's list of ingredients. Nestle said it did not add the flavor enhancer to the noodles.