NEW DELHI — India's Health Ministry announced Friday that Nestle's popular brand of instant noodles failed to pass safety tests and ordered its removal from stores across the country.
Nestle Global Chief Executive Paul Bulcke insisted that Maggi noodles "are completely safe and have been trusted in India for over 30 years."
He told reporters in New Delhi that there appeared to be confusion about testing methods used by Indian authorities and the Nestle group, and the two sides would consult in the coming days to sort out the differences.
Several Indian states have already banned Maggi noodles for allegedly containing unsafe levels of lead.
Health Minister J.P. Nadda said his ministry ordered that Maggi noodles be removed from the market because they did not meet safety standards.
"There will be no compromise of safety standards," he said.
Maggi sales have plunged in India since laboratory tests ordered by some state governments showed the noodles contain far higher lead levels than legally allowed. The tests also detected the chemical flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which is not mentioned in the product's list of ingredients.
Bulcke said his company did not add MSG to its Maggi noodles in India and tests have shown that the lead content was within permissible limits.
"As some ingredients like groundnut protein, onion powder and wheat flour contain glutamate naturally, this may have led to the confusion and as such Nestle has decided to remove the specific mention of 'No Added MSG' from the label," he said.
He said Maggi noodles would be back in the Indian market as soon as the current situation is clarified.
Maggi noodles are a favorite with students, and Nestle's "two-minute" advertising campaign stressing the ease of making the snack has made it a household name. The noodles are Nestle's fastest-selling food item in India, accounting for about 15 billion rupees ($240 million) in sales annually.
Nestle India says most Maggi noodles produced in India are sold in the country but a limited amount is exported to the U.S., Canada, Britain, Kenya and Singapore.