Trader Joe’s finds itself facing a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges consumers have overpaid for raw chicken the grocer has adulterated with amounts of retained water “far greater” than that declared on product labels. According to the case, the amount of retained water in Trader Joe’s raw chicken is concealed from consumers by superabsorbent pads inserted into product packaging.
The complaint explains that poultry processors utilize a water-immersion process to chill chicken carcasses during processing. During this process, the suit says, the raw poultry is immersed into a chilled water bath until cooled to the proper temperature. Once the raw poultry is removed from the water bath, the excess water the chicken picks up begins to drain off, yet some water, called “carry-over,” is retained, according to the lawsuit. Under federal and California law, any water that remains with the product at the time of packaging is considered “retained water.”
If the poultry is allowed to drain and dry properly before packaging, the chicken will not retain much of the water picked up during the chilling process, and return to as close to its pre-immersion net weight as possible, the case continues. As the lawsuit tells it, poultry processors can control the amount of water their chicken retains by “adjusting process control variables such as drip time and drying time,” as well as methods used before packaging. Importantly, poultry processors are required by law to label their products with the maximum percentage of retained water at the time of packaging.
“Under the Federal [Poultry Products Inspection Act] and parallel California law,” the complaint reads, “it is unlawful to package, transport, receive, sell, or offer for sale or transport, any raw poultry products that retain water and do not accurately declare on the package the maximum percentage of Retained Water in the product.”
The 60-page case, which has been removed from superior to district court in San Diego County, alleges Trader Joe’s raw poultry products—namely its all-natural chicken breast, thighs and chicken wings—are labeled as containing only 5 percent retained water. Some of the products, according to the lawsuit, contain “significantly more,” as much as 16 percent retained water, for which the plaintiff argues consumers are illegally charged per pound. From the lawsuit:
“Trader Joe’s retail poultry packages currently sold in California were found to contain on average 9% Retained Water, most of which is hidden from the consumer in superabsorbent pads underneath the product.
Some randomly sampled Trader Joe’s Chicken Products contained as much as 16% Retained Water in the packages, and some varieties of the Products contained more than 9% Retained Water on average.”
The suit claims that because the plaintiff and proposed class members paid the marked per-pound price for Trader Joe’s raw poultry, they paid more for the chicken than it was actually worth. The lawsuit looks for the court to order Trader Joe’s to cease packaging, distributing, advertising and selling its raw chicken in contrivance to FDA and California regulations, to re-label or recall all existing chicken products that are inaccurately labeled, and to conduct a corrective advertising campaign.