Monosodium Glutamate – Its use in food and the regulatory guidelines?

Monosodium Glutamate - Its use in food and the regulatory guidelines?
Monosodium Glutamate – Its use in food and the regulatory guidelines?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. This is a non-essential amino acid that is widely available in nature. Vegetables like tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, and other vegetables and fruits contain naturally-occurring MSG. It is used as a flavor enhancer with an umami taste – the so-called “fifth taste” – that is responsible for the meaty, savory flavor of food. MSG is very popular in Korean, Japanese and Chinese dishes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) classifies MSG as “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)”. It is believed that large doses of MSG can cause headaches, nausea and general discomfort, which is known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”. However, controlled scientific studies have refuted such claims. MSG, available under the trade name Ajinomoto is used to enhance the taste of dishes like chilly chicken, chilly paneer, fried rice, chow mein, chicken soup, chicken Manchurian and other such Chinese delicacies.

FSSAI Guidelines on MSG

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the apex authority on food safety and standards in India, has formulated a regulation pertaining to MSG. As per Regulation 2.2.1:1 of the FSSR, “Pre-packaged food shall not be described or presented on any label or in any labeling manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character in any respect”. Importantly, the USFDA regulations also indicate that if a food sample contains “naturally occurring MSG”, the manufacturers cannot label the pack “No added MSG”.

Furthermore, the FSSAI specifies that all advertisements on food packages containing added MSG must declare the following:

As per the FSSAI guidelines, MSG cannot be added to pasta and noodles. FSSAI has fixed the maximum permissible limits of MSG in canned crab meat at 500mg/kg. However, no guidelines currently exist for the maximum limit of naturally occurring MSG in food.

MSG and the Maggi® Controversy

Maggi® is mainly known for its instant noodles that have gained popularity amongst Indians, young and old alike, over the years. In 2015, a controversy flared-up when the Food Safety and Drug Administration (FDA) in Uttar Pradesh (UP) found high levels of MSG in two dozen packets of Maggi® noodles that were tested. The government issued a notice to Nestlé to recall 2 lakh packets of the product from the state. This also prompted two other states – Gujarat and Maharashtra – to carry out checks of the product. Fortunately, to the relief of the consumers, the issues between the government and Nestlé has sorted out amicably. However, the FSSAI is still exercising caution about MSG.

What Regulations Did FSSAI Introduce Following the Maggi® Controversy?

The FSSAI on 31st March 2016 issued an order that clarified the use of MSG as a flavor enhancer in seasoning for noodles and pasta. The order states that “Specific enforcement/prosecution cannot be launched against manufacturers of noodles/pasta on account of the presence of MSG/glutamic acid unless it is ascertained by the relevant government authority that MSG was deliberately added during the course of manufacture without the required declaration on the label”.

Testing of MSG in the Laboratory

MSG can be tested in foodstuffs by two methods. One of the methods involves the use of High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), while the other method uses High-Performance Thin Layer Chromatography (HPTLC). These are both analytical methods. Importantly, it should be noted that food samples containing “naturally occurring MSG”, in spite of a “no added MSG” label, will give a positive test for MSG by the above methods.

How Can We Help?

Arbro Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd. has NABL accredited and FSSAI approved laboratories with state-of-the-art instruments like HPLC and HPTLC for testing of MSG in food samples. Our dedicated scientific staff are always abreast of the latest developments in the scientific arena and are well versed with the latest techniques and instrumentations to carry out testing of chemical constituents of various types of foodstuffs on a regular basis. If you would like to use our testing services, please feel free to contact us through the contact form or call us now on +91-11-45754575. We will be happy to provide you with a proposal for testing of MSG in your food samples.

References

  1. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Order: “Clarification on use of monosodium glutamate as a flavor enhancer in seasoning for noodles and pasta”. File No. 1 (105) Maggi Noodles/2015/FSSAI (Part-I), dated 31st March 2016. Available at: http://old.fssai.gov.in/Portals/0/Pdf/Order_MSG_31_03_2016.pdf

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