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Maggi noodles ordered off the shelves in India

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maggi-noodles-india.jpgIndian shopkeepers withdrew a popular brand of Nestle instant noodles from their shelves Wednesday after tests revealed the snack contained unsafe levels of lead.

India's states have either ordered the withdrawal of Maggi noodles from shops or are carrying out further tests on noodle samples before taking action in conjunction with the federal government.

Maggi sales have plunged in India since laboratory tests showed the noodles contained lead at levels far higher than the legal maximum. The tests also detected the chemical flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which is not mentioned in the product's list of ingredients.

On Tuesday, the Delhi city government said it had conducted tests on 13 samples of Maggi noodles and 10 were found to be unsafe with lead exceeding the allowable level. Earlier tests, performed by food safety authorities in Uttar Pradesh state, showed that samples contained 17.2 parts per million of lead, many times the allowable limits which range between 0.01 and 2.5 ppm.

The Delhi government said it will take legal action against Nestle India, which is a subsidiary of Swiss-based Nestle SA, and was meeting Wednesday with company officials. It banned the sale of Maggi noodles in all state-run stores in the Indian capital. Several major grocery chains in the city have also announced that they are taking the noodles off shelves.

Maggi noodles are a hot favorite with school and college students and Nestle's "two-minute" advertising campaign stressing the ease of making the snack have made it a household name in India. The noodles are Nestle's fastest selling food item in India, clocking around 15 billion rupees ($240 million) in sales annually.

Some of India's biggest film stars have appeared in television commercials aimed at mothers and young children to promote Maggi noodles. A court in Bihar state on Tuesday ordered that a complaint be filed against three of Bollywood's biggest stars, Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, for acting as brand ambassadors for Maggi.

Spurred by the Maggi noodle scare, India's federal government was readying a new law to deal with cases in which consumers of essential commodities and foods were misled through wrong information.

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