Food group Nestle has withdrawn Maggi noodles from sale in India due to “an environment of confusion for consumers”, following a food scare sparked by reports of excess lead in some packets of the popular instant snack.
Nestle reiterated the noodles were safe, but after coming under fire in local media for reacting too little and too late, the group said it would recall the product regardless.
At least six states have banned Maggi noodles after tests revealed some packets contained excess amounts of lead. On Thursday, Tamil Nadu became the first state to ban several brands of instant noodles, including Nestle.
“The trust of our consumers and the safety of our products is our first priority,” the group said in a statement on Friday.
“Unfortunately, recent developments and unfounded concerns about the product have led to an environment of confusion for the consumer, to such an extent that we have decided to withdraw the product off the shelves, despite the product being safe.”
Nestle India said on Wednesday it had conducted internal and external tests of 125 million Maggi packets which showed “lead levels are well within the limits specified by food regulations and that Maggi noodles are safe to eat.”
Maggi noodles, which sell at roughly a dozen rupees ($0.20) per single-serving packet, are a hugely popular snack in India, served to children and in roadside shacks across the country. Maggi has long been market leader.
The food scare is a reminder of Indian consumers’ growing affluence and subsequent increased health awareness, at a time when social media can turn a scare in one state into a national cacophony within hours.