The two minute noodles that took our taste buds by storm are under threat for production and sale. As school children and college students everyone has had their growing up moments with the favourite, tasty and ready to make snack….sometimes a substitute for unpalatable dinner in the hostel cafeteria. Maggi has its share of memories and good times just as the advertisements showed.
The noodles though are in the line of fire with many batches of the food been found having MSG and high amounts of lead. But there is more truth to the story….
To start with many packed processed foods have various chemicals called preservatives, emulsifiers, stablisers and flavourings added to them. Any substance that is expected to become a component of food is a food additive that is subject to approval by FDA / FSSAI and conform to the terms of regulations prescribing its use. MSG or monosodium glutamate is one of the most common food additives.
Monosodium glutamate acts as a flavour enhancer and adds a fifth taste, called “umami”, which is best described as a savoury or meaty taste. Typically, monosodium glutamate is added to processed foods such as frozen foods, spice mixes, canned and dry soups, salad dressings and meat or fish-based products. In some countries, it is used as a table-top seasoning. Chemically Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Glutamate is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in nearly all foods, especially high protein foods such as dairy products, meat fish and in many vegetables.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, MSG is a safe food ingredient. It may cause the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” which includes symptoms such as headaches, sweating, numbness, chest pain, nausea, palpitations, and weakness. Still, research has not found any conclusive evidence that links MSG to any of these symptoms. Hundreds of studies and numerous scientific evaluations have concluded that monosodium glutamate provides a safe and useful taste enhancer for foods.
The bigger concern is the presence of high levels of lead… a contaminant.
The toxic nature of lead is well documented. Lead affects all organs and functions of the body to varying degrees. Lead is a heavy metal and can cause multiple health problems from Neurological disorders, neuropathy to GI problems ranging from nausea to vomiting. It can also effect the reproductive system leading to effects such as miscarriages and reduced sperm count and motility. There are many more health implications of lead including the possibility of cancer.
The question that is most pertinent in the wake of this controversy is the safety of industrially prepared food. How does a consumer who buys packed and processed food by relying on a trusted brand …be sure that what he is considering food will not be a cause of a scary disease. In an urban India where long hours of work are a reality and time a scarce commodity… the dependence on packed and convenience food is only increasing. Every additive that is added to a food product for improving shelf life, taste , flavour or texture does pose some degree of health hazard for the consumer.
The Onus of ensuring Quality and safety of food does lie with the food manufacturers and there is still a long way before regulation can make Food companies comply to stringent safety laws and regulations… there are too many leaks in the production, packaging, storage and distribution of processed food. Until then all a consumer can do is to be cautious and aware .. but more importantly he should try to depend less on processed and industry manufactured food and consume more wholesome, fresh food in its natural farm…after all you could munch an apple and avoid the instant noodles!!