A proposed class action alleges Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. has engaged in a pattern of failing to correctly identify on product labels potential food allergens that could prove dangerous or deadly to some consumers.
According to the 11-page lawsuit out of New York, Whole Foods has “failed to do the minimum necessary to protect consumers’ health” as it’s consistently failed to identify possible allergens such as milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans on the labels of store brand and freshly prepared products.
The case alleges Whole Foods has not only put those who are hypersensitive to certain food allergens in danger but has been able to sell more products at higher prices than it otherwise would have had it established an accurate computer labeling system.
“Plaintiff and consumers are allergic to foods among the major allergens or otherwise seek to avoid those allergens,” the complaint says. “They relied on Defendant’s reputation in the field of natural and healthy foods, such as designating certain artificial and synthetic ingredients it would seek to phase out.”
As the suit tells it, millions of consumers with food allergies enjoy shopping at Whole Foods given they expect the natural and organic food seller would not compromise their safety. Per the case, consumers expect Whole Foods to, among other measures, properly list ingredients on packages and prepared foods.
The lawsuit relays that consumers with food allergies diligently check the ingredients list of food products to confirm they’re safe for consumption. A food allergy may cause mild symptoms, such as hives or swelling, or more serious symptoms, such as anaphylaxis, the suit says.
According to the complaint, federal and state regulations require that the presence of any allergens be disclosed immediately after a product’s ingredients list, prefaced by the word “Contains.” The FDA has found, however, that Whole Foods has “engaged in a pattern of failing to properly disclose the presence of allergens” in its products, and was forced to issue 32 recalls from October 2019 through November 2020 due to its labeling failures, the lawsuit says.
Per the complaint, Whole Foods’ failure to properly identify food allergens is, according to the FDA, not a “blip” or “isolated” occurrence. Though a number of Whole Foods items have been recalled, the lawsuit says that experts estimate that “the occurrence of events that should trigger a recall is many multiples of actual recalls.”
“This means millions of Americans have been exposed to critical and dangerous food allergens for at least the past 13 months,” the suit claims. “The recalls have been characterized as ‘systemic’ and the FDA noted Defendant’s ‘pattern’ of failing to disclose allergens.”
The suit blames the alleged non-disclosures of food allergens not on human error or any factor unique to a particular store or region, but on Whole Foods’ apparent failure to update its computer labeling software.
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