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No standard method to find 'added MSG' in food products: Food scientists
Friday, 29 May, 2015, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Libin Chacko Kurian, Mumbai
Food scientists in the country are questioning the credibility of testing food products to find 'added Monosodium Glutamate' (MSG) and authenticity of such recent claims by food safety authorities in light of the recent case of Maggi noodles.

In a serious blow to the food safety authorities of the country, which claim to have detected 'added MSG' in some products and in a mission mode to find more, food technologists underlined that there is no standard method to differentiate between 'added MSG' and the naturally occurring glutamate in any food product, though the high content of lead found in the sample is a serious concern. In fact, there is no regulation to control the naturally occurring MSG in a food product.

In the above-mentioned recent case, Uttar Pradesh Food Safety & Drugs Administration (UP FSDA) had detected presence of MSG and lead in samples of Maggi noodles beyond permissible limits.

Apart from triggering nationwide testings by respective FDAs and FDCAs, the case has brought into focus the issue of 'added MSG.’ However, experts feel that the issue will die down soon, as there is no way to find ‘added MSG’ nor are there any regulations in place to control it. Further, Maggi noodles, manufactured by Nestle, do have ingredients such as hydrolysed vegetable protein, that can produce glutamate naturally. Also scientists and technologists have acknowledged that it is a smart strategy adopted by Nestle to have MSG in its products, while claiming “no added MSG.”

Harshdeep Kamble, FDA commissioner of Maharashtra, acknowledged the fact that there is no scientific method to differentiate between 'added MSG' and naturally occurred one in a recent meeting of scientific community. He stated, “We need and will to work together with scientists and technologists to develop any such laboratory technique or method for further regulations and implementation which would definitely help in transparency.”

Meanwhile, Sanjeev Sharma, a food technologist and owner of Food Pathshala (an online food safety portal), said, “There is no standard method, at least in India, to detect 'added MSG' in any food product because the glutamate in MSG is chemically indistinguishable from glutamate present in food proteins. MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolysed vegetable protein, autolysed yeast, hydrolysed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses. And there is no regulation by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to control the naturally occurring glutamate.”

Himanshu Manglik, spokesperson, Nestle India, explained, “We do not add MSG to our Maggi noodles sold in India and this is stated on the concerned product. However, we use hydrolysed groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour to make Maggi noodles sold in India, which contain glutamate. We believe that the authorities’ tests may have detected glutamate, which occurs naturally in many foods. We have in place strict food safety and quality controls at our Maggi factories, including thorough quality checks at each stage of our raw material sourcing and manufacturing process.”

The only regulation on MSG by FSSAI read, “Every advertisement for and/or a package of food containing added Monosodium Glutamate shall carry the following declaration, namely, This package of (name of the food contains added) Monosodium Glutamate.” In fact, US FDA has a regulation which reads, “foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their packaging,” which controls the naturally occurring MSG in food products. But no such regulations are present in the FSSAI norms.

Nilesh Lele, secretary, Association of Food Scientists and Technologists India (AFSTI), said, “We are not standing with food safety authorities or the manufacturers of the brand in this issue of MSG, in fact, high level of lead found in the sample is the real issue. We need to find a proper solution by developing a scientific method to detect 'added MSG' and should also have the right regulations to control any food safety violations. In the same time no regulations should be misused, which could be counter-productive. In case of Maggi noodles, it has already affected the sales and image of the brand.”
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