September 25, 2023 – McCormick Seasoning Heavy Metals Lawsuit Dismissed, Plaintiffs Given Second Chance
The proposed class action detailed on this page was dismissed by a federal judge on September 13, 2023.
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In a 28-page order, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila granted McCormick & Company’s move to toss the lawsuit, finding that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In particular, the court agreed with McCormick’s assertion that the plaintiffs “failed to identify an actionable misrepresentation or omission” with regard to its herbs and spices that was “likely to mislead a reasonable consumer.”
Further, the court ruled that the plaintiffs did not plausibly allege that McCormick’s products contained levels of heavy metals that rendered them unfit for human consumption.
Per the order, Judge Davila ruled that McCormick’s “The Taste You Trust” statement on which the plaintiffs based their fraud claims is “non-actionable puffery,” essentially a generalized, vague assertion of a product’s superiority. The claim did not amount to a “misdescription” of a specific characteristic of McCormick’s products, the judge found.
More broadly, Judge Davila said that although the plaintiffs highlighted statements on McCormick’s website that potentially indicate the products’ health and safety, the consumers “did not allege that they saw or relied on” any of those statements prior to buying the herbs and spices.
“Plaintiffs’ theory that McCormick’s omissions would deceive a reasonable consumer given the misrepresentation ‘The Taste You Trust’ also fails at this stage because Plaintiffs did not present facts to support this theory in the Complaint,” the order reads.
Ultimately, Judge Davila found the plaintiff’s assertion that any product containing heavy metals is unfit for human consumption to be “a conclusory statement unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint.” The judge appended that this conclusion also doomed the plaintiffs’ other claims.
The judge gave the plaintiffs until October 5 to file an amended complaint in which to allege facts “with more specificity and cure the other deficiencies” in their initial suit.
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A number of McCormick herbs and spices contain heightened levels of toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium, a proposed class action lawsuit alleges.
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Central to the 21-page suit against McCormick & Company, Inc. is a November 2021 Consumer Reports piece that found that a number of brands of herbs and spices were contaminated with toxic heavy metals linked to cancer and other serious health issues. The lawsuit, filed in California on January 18, contends that although other companies in the industry have adapted to limit the levels of heavy metals found in their herbs and spices, McCormick has “stood idly by with a reckless disregard for its consumers’ health and well-being.”
The specific McCormick products alleged to contain heightened amounts of toxic heavy metals include the company’s ground basil, ground ginger, ground oregano, paprika, ground thyme and ground turmeric. As the case tells it, the levels of heavy metals in the foregoing McCormick herbs and spices “far exceed consumer expectations.”
According to the complaint, the harmful effects of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and cadmium are well documented, and include the risk of children developing a lower IQ, behavioral problems and/or other adverse health conditions. For adults, heavy metals in even modest amounts can increase the risk of cancer, cognitive and reproductive issues and other conditions, the case says.
With regard to the November 2021 Consumer Reports article, the lawsuit states that 126 individual products from brands such as Great Value, La Flor, McCormick, Penzeys, Spice Islands and Trader Joe’s were comprehensively analyzed. Per the case, roughly one-third of the tested products, 40 in all, had high enough levels of heavy metals to “pose a health concern for children when regularly consumed in typical serving sizes,” as well as for adults.
“The authors cautioned that ‘just one serving—3/4 teaspoons or more—per day leaves little room for heavy metal exposure from other sources’ including ‘fruit juice, baby food, and rice[.]’ These latter food categories have also tested high for heavy metals and have been the subject of numerous lawsuits.”
The lawsuit says that although Consumer Reports determined that it is possible for companies to limit the heavy metals found in their products, McCormick nevertheless “fails to test for heavy metals,” even though competitors do so.
“Accordingly, provided this industry standard, Defendant would have had the knowledge that it could test for heavy metals, but it did not, and that it could safely remove these metals from its herbs and spice, but, again, did not,” the complaint charges. “Instead, Defendant chose to ignore the health of the consuming public in pursuit of profit.”
The suit alleges McCormick “intentionally and knowingly concealed” the fact that certain herbs and spices it makes contain toxic heavy metals, and knew that consumers would not buy the products had the presence of heavy metals been disclosed on their labels.
The lawsuit looks to cover all persons in the United States who have bought any of the McCormick herbs and spices listed on this page.
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