The estate of a meatpacking plant employee who died from a COVID-19 infection has sued JBS S.A. for negligence, wrongful death, misrepresentation and survival, alleging that the man’s death "was the predictable and preventable result of the JBS Defendants’ decisions to ignore worker safety.” Benjamin v. JBS S.A., No. 200500370 (Pa. C.P., Phila. Cty., filed May 7, 2020). According to the complaint, JBS increased production in March 2020 to meet increased demand for meat as shelter-in-place orders began to take effect across the United States. The estate argues that JBS “failed to provide sufficient personal protective equipment,” “forced workers to work in close proximity,” “forced workers to use cramped and crowded work areas, break areas, restrooms, and hallways,” “discouraged workers from taking sick leave in a manner that had sick workers in fear of losing their jobs,” and “failed to properly provide testing and monitoring for individuals who may have…

A consumer has filed putative class action alleging that Vilore Foods Co. Inc. misleadingly marketed Kern’s Nectar canned beverages as natural because they contain malic acid, “a synthetic chemical that is used to make manufactured food products taste like real fruit.” Gross v. Vilore Foods Co. Inc., No. 20-0894 (S.D. Cal., filed May 13, 2020). The complaint asserts that the products violate the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because they “contain additional flavoring ingredients that simulate and reinforce the characterizing flavor,” thus requiring Vilore “to disclose those additional flavors rather than misleadingly suggest that the Product is flavored only by the labeled natural juices.” A footnote indicates that the can packaging contained the statement as of 2017 but the “manufacturer apparently has since deleted ‘100% Natural’ on the retail can labels.” The plaintiff seeks damages and injunctions prohibiting deceptive advertising and requiring corrective advertising for alleged violations of California’s…

Shook Partner Katie Gates Calderon and Associate Elizabeth Fessler have authored “Best Practices for Food and Beverage Pricing Right Now” for Law360, which discusses how food and beverage companies may face regulatory actions and reputational damage if they are perceived to have raised their prices too much during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With increased demand and potentially increasing production costs due to supply chain disruptions, many in the food and beverage industry may be wondering how to deal with the economic pressures without running afoul of price-gouging statutes,” Fessler and Gates Calderon write. Many states have different laws governing price-gouging, and those laws often differ on what an acceptable price differential may be. Understanding which state laws apply and documenting all aspects of the reasoning for any price increase are key, they explain, concluding, “If you are contacted about pricing issues, it may be best to contact outside counsel before providing…

President Trump has issued an executive order directing Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to “ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry” consistent with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. CDC also issued a report on COVID-19 at meat and poultry processing facilities for the month of April 2020 that found 4,913 cases and 20 deaths among 130,000 workers and cited, among other risks, “crowded, multigenerational” residences and carpooling as relevant factors increasing the likelihood of transmission among employees. The government actions coincide with lawsuits seeking to hold meat and poultry processing plants liable for injury or death caused by COVID-19, including a wrongful death lawsuit brought against Quality Sausage Co. following the death of a forklift driver who allegedly contracted the coronavirus from coworkers. Parra v. Quality Sausage Co., No. DC-20-06406 (Tex. Dist. Ct., filed April 30,…

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. will pay $25 million and enter a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve criminal charges related to foodborne illness outbreaks that occurred between 2015 and 2018. The deferred prosecution agreement will require Chipotle to comply with an improved food safety program for three years to avoid conviction. “This case highlights why it is important for restaurants and members of the food services industry to ensure that managers and employees consistently follow food safety policies,” a DOJ attorney stated in a press release. “The Department of Justice will vigorously enforce food safety laws in order to protect public health.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has publicly released its April 2020 report on the partnership between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the development of cell-cultured meat. GAO indicated that it began the inquiry after some stakeholders “expressed concern about the agencies' oversight of cell-cultured meat amidst a fragmented federal food safety oversight system.” GAO recommended that “FDA and USDA more fully incorporate leading practices for effective collaboration in the agencies' interagency agreement,” and the agencies “partially concurred and indicated a willingness to incorporate these practices in a more detailed agreement, which would also meet the intent of the recommendations.”

A Texas state court has reportedly ordered Hillstone Restaurant Group to allow an employee returning to work to wear a face mask to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. The complaint initially sought to lift the restaurant group’s mask ban for all employees, but the plaintiff amended the complaint to only apply to her after the company attempted to remove the case to federal court, according to the Dallas Morning News. The employee asserted that she was denied four shifts, or 40 hours, because she refused to work without a mask, and the court’s temporary order will allow her to wear a mask for two weeks.

JD Supra 2020 Readers Choice Awards recognized Shook for the third consecutive time as the top law firm for food and beverage content. The award acknowledges top authors and firms for their thought leadership and reader engagement in key topics during the past year. Shook Partners Mark Anstoetter, Katie Gates Calderon and Lindsey Heinz tied as the top authors in the Food and Beverage category, with their legal writing ranked as the most read and responded to on the topic. Across all categories, Anstoetter, Gates Calderon and Heinz were among 235 authors selected out of more than 50,000 who publish their work on the legal news platform. In the category of Food and Beverage news, Anstoetter, Gates Calderon and Heinz were the top three in a field of 900 food and beverage authors. JD Supra connects professionals writing on topics read by C-suite executives, in-house counsel and media members, delivering…

By Shook Of Counsel John Johnson The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulatory requirements for food companies, including manufacturers and importers, remain largely unchanged during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, COVID-19 is disrupting plant operations and supply-chains, which companies must be mindful of as they continue to function within the regulatory requirements: Food safety remains FDA’s top priority. The agency is continuing to work with companies to implement food recalls, and FDA will conduct mission critical, for-cause inspections when necessary. Monitor email inboxes for a message from an FDA investigator indicating that the agency is requesting records to conduct a remote inspection. FDA has indicated that these remote inspections will start for food importers to determine their compliance with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), Food Safety Plans, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Plans and FSVP must continue to be implemented. In doing so,…

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a putative class action alleging Dunkin’ Brands Inc. misled consumers about the cuts of meat in its “Angus” line of products. Chen v. Dunkin’ Brands Inc., No. 18-3087 (2nd Cir., entered March 31, 2020). The plaintiffs argued that Dunkin marketed its products as containing “Angus Steak” despite containing ground beef patties rather than “an ‘intact’ piece of meat.” The appeals court first affirmed the dismissal of several plaintiffs on jurisdictional grounds before considering the merits of the argument. The complaint “identified three Dunkin Donuts television advertisements, providing descriptions along with video links, and alleged that the advertisements were deceptive in their use of the word ‘steak,’” the court noted. “All three advertisements, however, conclude with multiple zoomed-in images that clearly depict the ‘steak’ in the Products as a beef patty.” The court turned to…

Close