Known for its chatty employees and cheap wine, Trader Joe’s has grown from a single store in California to more than 560 stores all across the United States.
Trader Joe’s does a lot of things right (19-cent bananas!), but the grocery store chain was recently named in two product liability lawsuits alleging that its in-house dark chocolate bars contain harmful levels of toxic metals.
Let’s answer some questions shoppers may have about the lawsuits.
Why was Trader Joe’s sued?
Tamakia Herd and Thomas Ferrante, both residents of New York, filed lawsuits against Trader Joe’s on January 4, 2023.
The lawsuits allege that Trader Joe’s in-house chocolate bars contain unsafe levels of lead and cadmium.
More specifically, the lawsuits allege that:
- Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao bar and Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao bar contain lead and cadmium;
- Lead and cadmium pose a risk to consumers because they can cause cancer and irreversible damage to brain development, as well as other serious health problems; and
- Trader Joe’s failed to warn consumers that the bars contain lead and cadmium.
The lawsuits were filed individually but also seek to certify a class action lawsuit on behalf of all individuals who purchased the chocolate bars.
How do we know Trader Joe’s chocolate bars contain toxic metals?
Consumer Reports published a report titled “Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate” on December 15, 2022.
The report details how Consumer Reports scientists tested 28 dark chocolates for lead and cadmium and found that:
“For 23 of the bars, eating just an ounce a day would put an adult over a level that public health authorities say may be harmful.”
One of the bars that was found to contain unsafe levels of cadmium and lead was Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s 85% Dark Chocolate bar. Trader Joe’s 72% Dark Chocolate bar did not have high levels of cadmium but did have high levels of lead.
Wondering about safer chocolate bar options? Consumer Reports found that the following chocolate bars contained the lowest levels of lead and cadmium:
- Most Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa
- Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao
- Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao
- Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao
- Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao
“Having a serving a few days a week, especially with a product that has lower levels, means you can eat dark chocolate without worrying unduly,” says Consumer Reports’ Tunde Akinleye, a chemist and the program leader of Food Safety Research and Testing at Consumer Reports.
Are lead and cadmium dangerous?
Lead and cadmium are heavy metals. The harmful effects of heavy metals are well-documented, particularly with respect to pregnant women and children.
Exposure to heavy metals may increase the risk of:
- Cognitive problems
- Behavior problems
- Reproductive problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- Kidney failure
According to the Cleveland Clinic:
“In the United States, heavy metal poisoning is rare since it only affects people who have exposure to heavy metals. The number of people diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning decreased significantly over the last 20 years because of awareness and preventative measures to remove heavy metals.”
Can I join the class action lawsuit against Trader Joe’s?
If the judge grants certification of the proposed class action lawsuit, a notice will be sent to potential class members explaining what steps must be taken to be part of the lawsuit.
With that being said, it sometimes makes more sense to file an individual lawsuit than to join a class action lawsuit. If you believe you’ve suffered adverse effects as a result of consuming Trader Joe’s chocolate bars, it’s wise to reach out to a personal injury attorney near you to discuss your case.
What else do I need to know about product liability lawsuits?
There are three main categories of product liability claims:
- Manufacturing defect claims. Most product liability cases are based on manufacturing defects. A defectively manufactured product is one that—though properly designed—left the manufacturer in a condition other than the one intended. In other words, some error occurred during the manufacturing process that caused the product to become unsafe.
- Design defect claims. A claim based on a defective design takes issue with the way the product was designed. A product is defectively designed if you can show that it failed to perform as safely as a reasonable person would expect, even when the product is used as intended (or at least in a manner that was reasonably foreseeable).
- Inadequate warning or instruction claims. Manufacturers have a duty to warn users of the dangers inherent in their products. Manufacturers don’t need to warn consumers about every conceivable danger. Instead, they must warn users about dangers that occur while the product is used as intended and dangers that can be reasonably anticipated.
Most product liability claims are based on negligence, which means the plaintiff needs to prove that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care (manufacturers owe a duty of care to all potential users of their products);
- The defendant breached the duty of reasonable care owed to the plaintiff; and
- The defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
The deadline for filing a product liability lawsuit depends on the state in which the suit is filed, but typically ranges from two to four years from the date of the injury or from the date the injury is discovered.