Aaron Clarke and Michelle Devera filed a class action lawsuit against The Kraft Heinz Company on Monday “for making, marketing, and distributing its Kraft Macaroni & Cheese products,” purporting that harmful chemicals called ortho-phthalates or phthalates, are present in its products.
The Northern District of California complaint claimed that Kraft Heinz was aware of the presence of these harmful chemicals but did not remove them or alert consumers and choose instead “to prioritize profits over the safety of the consuming public.”
General Mills, which produces Annie’s brand Macaroni and Cheese, received complaint with similar allegations on Thursday of last week. Both matters explained that phthalates, which are used to make plastic flexible, are synthetic chemicals that can enter food products when they are being processed or packaged and are “‘indirect’ food additives.”
Reportedly, the chemicals make up between 30% and 50% of the plastic material and, because they are not bound chemically to the equipment, they are transferred into food products. “Because phthalates bind with fats, they tend to be found at higher levels in highly processed or fatty foods,” such as macaroni and cheese, the complaint said.
The plaintiffs in the present suit explained that they purchased Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, but would not have done so if they were aware of the potential harm from phthalates and the presence of phthalates in the product. Clarke and Devera claimed that phthalates can increase cancer risks, lead to obesity, block testosterone production, and cause developmental deficits. Specifically, phthalates have reportedly been found to be particularly harmful when there is prenatal exposure. The chemical has been banned from use in some children’s toys since 2009 following the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.
Monday’s complaint cited that phthalate levels were four times higher in the cheese powder samples than in natural cheese at levels of .2 to 2.5 parts per million. For reference, the plaintiffs said the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that safe levels are between .1 and .01 parts per million.
“For years, Kraft has known about the presence of phthalates in its Products. Since at least 2017, consumer advocacy groups have called on Kraft to take steps to remove these chemicals from its Products, yet Kraft has steadfastly refused to do so,” the complaint alleged. It cited that Kraft’s response has been that it does not add phthalates and that there are only trace amounts. The plaintiff claimed this response “inaccurately downplay(s)” the significance of the issue.
The plaintiffs cited that Kraft’s competitor, General Mills, has “pledged to take steps to remove these harmful chemicals,” and argued that the products can be made without the presence of phthalates.
The complaint asked the court to certify the class and a California subclass, rule that Kraft’s conduct violates laws as cited in the complaint, grant “compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages,” grant injunctive relief to the plaintiffs, and require Kraft to run a corrective advertising campaign.
The plaintiffs are represented by Bursor & Fisher P.A.