Lawsuit Against Chocolate Companies: Sweet Turns Poison

by | Dec 28, 2023 | Product Liability

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Who doesn’t enjoy a yummy chocolate bar? Let it be kids or adults; chocolate is the love of everyone that make many moments extra special. What if you get to know that your favorite chocolates contain toxic chemicals? This reality leads to lawsuit against chocolate companies, which is the backbone of this blog.

Let’s start our sail by understanding the common ingredients of chocolates and why the leading dark chocolate companies are sued.

Lip-Smacking Chocolates: What’s is inside?

Cacao beans, which develop into fruits resembling pods on tropical cacao trees, are used to make chocolate. Milk chocolate ranges in content from 10 to 50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk in some form, and sugar, whereas dark chocolate has 50 to 90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. White chocolate is produced only of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk and does not contain any cocoa solids. Furthermore, butter fat, vegetable oils, or artificial colors or flavors may be added to lower-quality chocolates.

Two doses of cocoa butter are included in chocolate: the natural quantity from the bean and an additional amount to increase smoothness.

Many dishes contain chocolate, especially sweets like cakes, pudding, mousse, chocolate brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate is one of the world’s most popular food types and flavors.

Chocolates have the power to calm, relax and soothe your brain. According to research so far, eating chocolate can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet and way of life. One of the primary saturated fats in chocolate has been shown in studies not to elevate cholesterol like other hard fats; therefore, it is safe to consume chocolate in moderation.

If you’re a die-hard chocolate fan, you already know they fill in our lives, and the most significant part is that there’s never a wrong time to indulge.

Chocolate Lawsuits: The Bitter Truth 

In December 2022, a Consumer Reports investigation published a report, “Lead, and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate.” The report revealed the presence of high levels of heavy metals, including cadmium and lead, in 28 dark chocolate brands. Top brands like Hershey, Traders Joe’s, Lindt, Dove, Godiva, Green & Black’s, Beyond Good, Equal Exchange, Scharffen Berger, Alter Eco, Pascha, Tony’s, Chocolove, Endangered Species, Hu and Theo are in the dark with the shocking report.

Sonya Levy filed a class-action lawsuit against Hu, alleging the brand falsely marketed its dark chocolate products as organic and healthy. She claims she would not have bought them or would have paid less had she known they contained lead. The case argues that consumers cannot verify product safety at the point of purchase and must rely on accurate company disclosures. The Hu chocolate lawsuit questions the brand’s integrity in advertising “natural” ingredients.

lawsuits-against-chocolate-companies-high-in-lead

As per the investigation, the most susceptible group that could be affected by the heavy metal in dark chocolates are children and pregnant women. It is a well-known fact that heavy metal toxicity can affect brain development, and IQ, leading to developmental problems.

lawsuits-against-chocolate-companies-high-in-cadmium

The investigation studies sparked lawsuits against dark chocolates manufactured by chocolate companies like Hershey and Trader Joe’s. The chocolates manufactured by these companies had the highest heavy metal presence among the others. The lawsuits against both manufacturers are more or less the same with the exact case backgrounds and allegations.

Hershey Dark Chocolate Lawsuit

As per the Consumer Reports Magazine, the following are the Maximum Allowable Dose Level of lead and cadmium toxicity in Hershey’s dark chocolate products.

  • Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate- 265% of the MADL of lead
  • Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate – 70% Cocoa product contained 144% of the MADL of lead
  • Lily’s Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa product- 143% of the MADL of lead and 101% of the MADL of cadmium.

The standards used for the above studies were California’s Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADLs) for lead which is 0.5 micrograms, and cadmium which is 4.1 micrograms.

Two claimants in New York filed lawsuits on December 28, 2022, against the Hershey Company at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The lawsuit accused the defendant of deceptive and misleading business practices in marketing and selling Hershey’s and Lily’s dark chocolate products.

The products included in the lawsuits were as follows.

  • Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate
  • Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Lily’s Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa

Hershey’s dark chocolate lawsuit accused the manufacturer was aware of the heavy metal toxicity in their products and still using false, misleading, and deceptive advertising campaigns. As per the dark chocolate lawsuits, the claimants relied on the defendant’s misrepresentations and omissions that the products contained only dark chocolate ingredients.

Christopher Lazazzaro, the plaintiff, filed the class action case against the chocolate manufacturer on behalf of the plaintiffs. The below-mentioned are some of the key allegations made by the plaintiffs against the defendant.

  • The defendant knew the lead and cadmium in the items and could not have been in the dark about it.
  • The defendant is required by law to put safeguards in place to considerably reduce or eliminate exposure to chemical risks in the products.
  • For quality control purposes, the defendant tests the items to check for the presence of harmful substances like lead and cadmium.
  • The suppliers of the ingredients used to make the products provide the defendant with Certificates of Analysis and other certifications. These documents will also indicate the levels of contaminants, such as cadmium and lead, included in each constituent ingredient. Their records and their own tests informed the defendant that their products had dangerous substances, including lead and cadmium.

The lawsuit against Hershey stated that the plaintiff would not have been willing to pay the same amount for the products and/or would not have been willing to purchase the products if he had been aware of the heavy metal toxicity.

The lawsuit claims the following damages sustained by the claimants in the lawsuit.

  • Monetary damages
  • Treble damages
  • Statutory damages
  • Punitive damages

The lawsuit demands a pay-out of $500 per transaction for buying the allegedly deceptively advertised chocolate.

Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lawsuit

Consumer Reports reported that lead and cadmium levels in Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao and Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao were both high. Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao was found to have 127% of MADL of lead and 229% of MADL of cadmium.

One week after the Hershey dark chocolate lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, two lawsuits were filed against Trader Joe’s by the claimants Tamakia Herd and Thomas Ferrante.

The products included in the lawsuits were as follows.

  • Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao
  • The Dark Chocolate Lovers’ Chocolate 72% Cacao

The class-action lawsuits were similar to the lawsuit against Hershey, alleging that the company failed to disclose on the packaging that their dark chocolate products contain lead and cadmium.

The below-mentioned are some of the important allegations made by the plaintiffs against the defendant.

  • The defendant was in charge of all aspects of the production of its products, including design, testing, packaging, labeling, marketing, advertising, promotion, distribution, and sales.
  • The defendant had entire control over how to describe the contents of its products on their labels.
  • The defendant intended for the plaintiff and the class members to rely on the products’ packaging and knew or should have known that they would do so but failed to disclose the presence of heavy metals.
  • Defendant failed to properly test for heavy metals in their products despite knowing or having a reasonable expectation that it would.
  • The defendant knew or ought to have known that a prudent customer may regularly take a one-ounce serving of the product, exposing themselves to dangerous levels of heavy metals.
  • Plaintiff and the class Members were exposed to, saw, read, and understood the defendant’s labels before purchasing the Products, and they relied on them to do so. Still, the defendant failed to disclose the existence (or risk) of heavy metals.
  • The defendant has a responsibility to warn customers that using the products could expose them to dangerously high quantities of heavy metals.

In one of the lawsuits, the claimant Thomas Ferrante stated that he bought both products after reading their labels. He added that he would not have chosen the products or would have paid less if he had been aware of the heavy metal contamination.

The plaintiffs are seeking at least $ 5 million in damages, accusing Trader Joe’s misled and endangering consumers with products contaminated with toxic heavy metals.

Surprising news in this context is that this is not the first time the company is accused of heavy metal contamination in their dark chocolate products. In 2014, a consumer advocacy group tested Trader Joe’s products and detected dangerously high levels of cadmium and lead.

How do heavy metals get into our dark chocolates?

The primary raw material for chocolates is cocoa beans, which are harvested and crushed into chocolate liquor. The resulting chocolate liquor is subsequently transformed into cocoa butter and solid cocoa. The bitter flavor of chocolate is caused by cocoa solids.

Of all chocolate varieties, dark chocolate has the largest concentration of cocoa butter and solids. This contributes to the richer, deeper chocolate flavor of dark chocolate. Sugar and cocoa powder are the additional ingredients that have been added to make different flavors in dark chocolate products.

Some studies report that the cocoa beans used to make chocolate include naturally occurring lead and cadmium. Since dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate, it obviously contains higher quantities of these metals.

Studies conducted in March 2022 indicate that lead and cadmium in dark chocolates are related to the production of chocolate or the processing of cocoa beans. There are safeguards in place to prevent the entry of Cd and Pb through production machinery, packing, processing water, and ambient dust.

The Cd in cocoa beans comes from the soil, and during the pre-harvest period, the cocoa tree directly absorbs phytoavailable Cd from the soil.

A Happy News for Your Dark Chocolate Craving

Flavanols and polyphenols in dark chocolate are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and they increase blood circulation.

After knowing about the lawsuit against chocolate companies, the question that fills your mind right now is.

Do I need to forget those yummy dark chocolate moments?

No. We have some happy news for you, dark chocolates without heavy metals. According to Consumer Reports testing for cadmium and lead levels, Ghirardelli, Mast, Taza, and Valrhona bars are the safest dark chocolate brands with heavy metal levels in the safety limits.

Companies that process cocoa beans or create chocolate are now unable to use reduction measures intended to decrease the uptake of Cd by cacao trees in their operations in the near future in order to lower Cd levels in their chocolate products.

According to Consumer Reports, harvesting cacao beans and producing chocolate can also increase the levels of heavy metals. Studies suggest reducing metal contaminants when cleaning cacao beans in factories, genetically modifying cacao plants, or blending cacao beans with higher metal levels with other beans to reduce levels.

Recently, Hershey has reported that they are about to find ways to reduce the trace amounts of elad and cadmium in their chocolates.  The company added that, these heavy metals enter into the products from the raw materials they use, and they are doing research to remove them with additional processing steps.

Let us wind up the blog with an interesting fact. According to Verified Market Research, the dark chocolate market in 2021 was $56.09 billion, which is expected to grow to $114.62 billion by 2030. Studies report that 15% of consumers in the world eat dark chocolate on a daily basis.

Will the heavy metal contamination reports and the ongoing product liability lawsuits against chocolate companies affect the global market? Seeing the trend and more consumers joining the battle, expert personal injury lawyers opine that dark chocolate heavy metals class action lawsuits will get more serious in the coming days.

Stay tuned with MedLegal360 for timely updates on the dark chocolate heavy metal lawsuit.

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