Posts By Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

By Partner Lindsey Heinz and Associate Zac Parker The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to Jimmy John’s Franchise, LLC and its supplier Sprouts Unlimited Inc. regarding food safety practices after the agency traced an outbreak of E. coli to Jimmy John’s produce, which had previously caused outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. In the letter to Jimmy John’s, FDA focused on the company's prior sales of adulterated products, its misrepresentations to FDA regarding the sourcing of its sprouts, and the need for Jimmy John’s to demonstrate “long-term, sustainable corrections” that would prevent these outbreaks in the future. It comes as no surprise that letters like these make headlines and risk hurting a food supplier’s reputation. In light of these warning letters and the concerns raised by potential outbreaks of the new coronavirus COVID-19, food manufacturers must be vigilant about supply chain management, whether at the growing, transporting, processing or…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released its plan to combat outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) carried by leafy greens. "Due to the reoccurring nature of outbreaks associated with leafy greens, FDA has developed this commodity-specific action plan," the announcement states. "Expediting the improved safety of leafy greens will require collaboration between FDA and stakeholders in the public and private sectors, including industry and our regulatory partners. This plan is designed to help foster a more urgent, collaborative, and action-oriented approach." The plan details actions on prevention, response and addressing knowledge gaps.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and several agricultural firms have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenging the agency's denial of the group's petition seeking to ban organic certification of hydroponic food growers. Ctr. for Food Safety v. Perdue, No. 20-1537 (N.D. Cal., filed March 2, 2020). USDA denied CFS's January 2019 petition, and CFS argues that the denial was arbitrary and capricious and violates the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The complaint asserts that USDA ignored the National Organic Standards Board's 2010 recommendation against certifying hydroponic operations as organic and "issued a blanket statement" allowing certification that contradicted the recommendation of the board and a hydroponics task force. "USDA offered no supporting rationale for its statement. USDA made the statement in a website announcement, without any opportunity for public input and without taking any rulemaking action," the plaintiffs argue. Further, "USDA failed to explain…

Two consumers have filed a putative class action alleging that Tropicana misleads consumers by implying that its products are natural despite containing malic acid. Willard v. Tropicana Mfg. Co., No. 20-1501 (N.D. Ill., filed February 28, 2020). The complaint argues that Tropicana "tricks consumers" into buying products by "omitting the legally required disclosures" about artificial flavoring because the juice products list malic acid—which the plaintiff asserts is the synthetic flavoring form, dl-malic acid—as an ingredient. Tropicana "intended to give reasonable consumers like the Plaintiff the impression that the Products are pure, natural, and not artificially flavored, by packaging, labeling, and advertising the Products" with depictions of fresh fruit and names such as "Farmstand Apple," the plaintiffs assert. For alleged violations of Illinois and California consumer-protection statutes, they seek class certification, injunctions, damages and attorney's fees.

A plaintiff has alleged that Frito-Lay North America Inc. fails to include a mandated front-of-package disclosure that its Cheddar and Sour Cream chips are flavored with artificial flavoring. Ithier v. Frito-Lay N. Am. Inc., No. 20-1810 (S.D.N.Y., filed March 1, 2020). The complaint asserts that "[b]ased on flavor composition analysis of the Products, the artificial flavor consists of compounds associated with butter flavor," and "butter flavor is known as enhancing and boosting the flavor of cheddar cheese." Thus, according to the plaintiff, the flavor of the chips should be listed as "Artificially Flavored Cheddar & Sour Cream." The plaintiff alleges fraud, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, breach of warranties and a violation of New York's consumer-protection statute, and he seeks class certification, injunctive relief, damages and attorney's fees.

A New York federal court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that BEF Foods Inc. misleadingly marketed its Bob Evans mashed potatoes as containing butter. Sarr v. BEF Foods, No. 18-6409 (E.D.N.Y., entered February 13, 2020). The lawsuit alleged that the packaging promised "real butter" and "fresh potatoes" despite containing vegetable oil and preservatives. The court found that the product's ingredient list disclosed that the mashed potatoes contained both vegetable oil and butter, with butter as the more predominant ingredient. The court was also unpersuaded on the "fresh potatoes" point. "No reasonable consumer would conclude that the phrases 'Made with Fresh Potatoes' and 'Made with 100% Fresh Potatoes' [] imply that the finished Mashed Potatoes product itself was 'just prepared' or lacking preservatives," the court held. "BEF's representations unambiguously mean that the potatoes used as an ingredient in the Mashed Potatoes were fresh when so incorporated."

A California federal court has granted certification to a class of consumers who purchased honey from one of the brands produced by the Sioux Honey Association who believed the honey to be "pure" or "100% pure. Tran v. Sioux Honey Ass'n, No. 17-0110 (C.D. Cal., entered February 24, 2020). The plaintiff asserts that the honey is not "pure" because it contains traces of glyphosate. The court assessed the plaintiff's claims and found that they met the certification requirements of numerosity, commonality and typicality; further, she was found to be an adequate representative of the proposed class. Accordingly, the court certified a class of California residents who have purchased a Sue Bee honey product since January 2014.

A lawsuit challenging the ingredients in LaCroix sparkling water has been dismissed with prejudice by the plaintiffs. Rice v. Nat'l Beverage Corp., No. 18-7151 (N.D. Ill., E. Div., entered February 18, 2020). National Beverage Corp. reportedly shared a letter with the media about the voluntary dismissal, stating that a laboratory cited in the complaint confirmed that it had not, as alleged, determined that the ingredients in LaCroix were not natural. "That laboratory has since confirmed in writing and separately under oath that its testing could not, and did not, determine whether the ingredients were 'synthetic' and made no finding as to the source of the ingredients it identified." The letter reportedly also asserts that the plaintiff was provided results from a different laboratory, "which confirmed that LaCroix's flavor ingredients are 100% natural and free of any 'synthetic' sources."

A California federal court has rejected a settlement in a lawsuit that alleged Kellogg Sales Co. misled consumers by marketing its products as "healthy." Hadley v. Kellogg Sales Co., No. 16-4955 (N.D. Cal., San Jose Div., entered February 20, 2020). The court found the settlement agreement to be invalid for several reasons: (i) "the release of the claims is overbroad"; (ii) the parties did not show that certification was appropriate; (iii) the parties failed "to provide sufficient information to justify a proposed reversion to Kellogg"; (iv) several forms associated with class participation contained errors; and (v) the "settlement structure is currently inconsistent with the fact that the voucher portion of the settlement constitutes a coupon settlement under the Class Action Fairness Act." Shook Partner Lindsey Heinz and Associate Elizabeth Fessler wrote an article for Law360 on the settlement when it was announced in late 2019, focusing on the lessons companies…

The Swiss Federal Administrative Court has reportedly ruled that Jägermeister can use its logo, "a stag with a shining white cross between its antlers," on a variety of products in Switzerland because it is not offensive to religion. The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property had argued for a restriction on the use of the logo, asserting that the "image was offensive to the religious leanings of some consumers," according to Swiss Info. The court reportedly disagreed, finding that consumers associate the logo with Jägermeister rather than the story of St. Hubert that inspired the logo.