Hershey Faces Lawsuit Over Claims Of Lead In Dark Chocolate

On December 28, Christopher Lazazzaro of Nassau County, New York, filed a class action lawsuit against Hershey to the tune of $5 million in damages for failing to warn consumers of the levels of lead and cadmium in three of its chocolate products (per Reuters). This comes on the heels of a December 15 report published by Consumer Reports that studied the levels of lead and cadmium of 28 chocolate bars.

The report used the level of lead and cadmium it states is deemed the limit by the California Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment's (OEHHA) Proposition 65 as its benchmark and found that the majority of the chocolate tested exceeded those acceptable levels of either lead, cadmium, or both.

The products that Lazazzaro refers to in his suit are Hershey's Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, Lily's Extra Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, and Lily's Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa. His assertion is that Hershey should have labeled them in a way that disclosed the fact that they contained the metals (via Reuters). According to CBS News, the lawsuit states that Lazazzaro bought and paid more than he would have if he had been aware of "the truth about the products."

Is the lead level unsafe?

While OEHHA has clearly set limits for levels of lead and cadmium, there are no federal standards for either, according to Consumer Reports. It is for that reason that Consumer Reports chose the Proposition 65 levels for its study. However, there are other limits that have been established.

On December 16, the National Confectioners' Association (NCA) released a statement in response stating that chocolate and cocoa safe to consume and that the OEHHA's guidelines Consumer Reports used are "not food safety standards." "The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements, and the levels provided to us by Consumer Reports testing are well under the limits established by our settlement," the NCA stated. The settlement the NCA refers to is a 2018 Consent Judgment that detailed the acceptable levels of both lead and cadmium in chocolate, per the NCA's statement. In the judgment proposal, the acceptable levels are set for both lead and cadmium in "parts per million" (ppm). The proposal details plans for lowering the ppm over time, as well as plans to improve processes for further reduction of lead and cadmium in the cocoa supply.

While the NCA asserts that the levels are safe, Lazazzaro apparently feels otherwise. It's up to the New York court to determine if Hershey is in the right or if Lazazzaro will get one sweet settlement. The NCA could not be reached for comment as of this publication.