Trader Joe's was hit by two lawsuits over alleged high levels of lead and cadmium in its chocolate.
Consumer Reports found that two of its own-brand dark chocolate bars contain potentially unsafe quantities of heavy metals.
There is no federal limit on how much lead or cadmium chocolate can contain, but some states set guidelines.
Trader Joe's was hit by two proposed class-action lawsuits on Wednesday, claiming that the retailer acted illegally by failing to warn customers that its dark chocolate contained high levels of lead and cadmium.
The lawsuits relate to two of Trader Joe's own-brand products: its 72% cacao dark chocolate and its Dark Chocolate Lover's 85% cacao chocolate. Testing by Consumer Reports in December suggested that the chocolate bars contain high quantities of heavy metals.
Both lawsuits allege that Trader Joe's must have been aware of the levels of lead and cadmium in its chocolate and accused the retailer of "deceptive" practices. The suits say that consumers would have paid less for the products if they had known about the heavy metals they reportedly contain. Both plaintiffs demand a trial by jury.
One plaintiff, New York City resident Tamakia Herd, alleged in her lawsuit that by selling the chocolate, Trader Joe's "chose to ignore the health of the consuming public in pursuit of profit." The suit, which Insider has reviewed, was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
She said that this was in spite of the fact that the retailer has "long maintained an image of catering to health-conscious consumers."
Herd, who said that she eats around two bars of dark chocolate a week, accused Trader Joe's of having "a reckless disregard for its consumers' health and well-being."
The other plaintiff, Nassau County resident Thomas Ferrante, said that Trader Joe's "could not be unaware of the existence of lead and cadmium" in the products. Ferrante filed his suit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. It has been seen by Insider.
Trader Joe's did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, made outside of regular working hours.
Consumer advocacy nonprofit Consumer Reports tested 28 bars of dark chocolate from brands including Hershey's, Lily's, Trader Joe's, and Lindt.
There are no federal limits on how much lead and cadmium most foods can contain, so Consumer Reports instead based its findings on the levels of heavy metals that the state of California classes as the maximum allowable dose.
The results found that for 23 of the bars, eating an ounce a day means an adult would consume more lead and cadmium than California authorities generally consider safe.
Consumer Reports' testing found that just one ounce of Trader Joe's 72% cacao dark chocolate contained 192% of the level of lead and 36% of the level of cadmium that California classes as the maximum allowable dose. For the Dark Chocolate Lover's 85% cacao chocolate, these levels were 127% for lead and 229% for cadmium.
Lead can build up in the body over time and contribute to ailments including high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, headaches, and memory problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. "Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems," the Mayo Clinic says, noting that it is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and children.
Cadmium can similarly build up in the body, according to the CDC. It says eating large amounts of cadmium can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and that repeated exposure to the metal may lead to kidney disease, fragile bones, and cancer.
Consumer Reports found that cacao plants take up cadmium from the soil, while lead seems to contaminate the beans as they dry in the sun after being picked. Because dark chocolate contains more cacao than milk chocolate, it generally has higher levels of lead and cadmium as a result.
Ferrante's attorneys also filed a lawsuit against the Hershey Company last week on behalf of another Nassau County resident related to the levels of lead and cadmium in one Hershey's-brand chocolate bar and two Lily's-brand chocolate bars.
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