Trader Joe’s enjoys sweet victory, dismissal of honey labeling case

A putative class action involving allegations related to Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey has been dismissed after a California federal district court granted Trader Joe’s motion to dismiss without leave to amend. The consumers alleged that Trader Joe’s mislabeled and falsely advertised its manuka honey as “pure” when it was allegedly adulterated. In dismissing the complaint, the court concluded that plaintiffs could not plead sufficient facts to support their adulteration theory since their theory involved the bee’s mixing of pollen and not the manufacturer intentionally mixing manuka honey with non-manuka honey. Since the consumers admitted they could not plead enough facts to support their adulteration claims, the court also dismissed the breach of warranty and fraud claims. The product labeling is accurate and, therefore, not misleading. Finally, the state law claims are preempted (Moore v. Trader Joe’s Company, June 24, 2019, Westmore, K.).

Trader Joe’s (manufacturer) markets and sells “Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey.” Plaintiffs (consumers) allege that two representations contributed to their alleged injuries. On the front label, the product states “100% New Zealand Manuka Honey” or “New Zealand Manuka Honey. The ingredient statement lists “manuka honey” as the only ingredient. The consumers allege that the product testing they purchased showed that approximately 57 and 62 percent of the pollen in the tested honey was from the manuka flower; the remaining pollen was from other floral sources. The consumers allege that Trader Joe’s sales and marketing violate consumer protection laws because the honey is mislabeled and falsely advertised as pure manuka honey, but it should be labeled as “Manuka-based.” Trader Joe’s filed a motion to dismiss.

Insufficient facts to support adulteration

The court granted the manufacturer’s motion to dismiss without leave to amend because the consumers confirmed they could not plead sufficient facts to support the adulteration theory.

The consumers’ theory of adulteration is that bees visit different floral sources and return to the hive, which lowers the manuka pollen count; their theory was not that the manufacturer purposefully mixed manuka honey with non-manuka honey. The FDA’s industry guidance on honey labeling, which was referenced by both parties, only discusses adulteration with non-honey sources and not mixing high-value honey with less expensive honey. Further, the guidance does not address whether the mixing would constitute adulteration.

The court concluded that to constitute adulteration, the manufacturer would have to purposefully mix manuka and non-manuka honey. In this case, all the involved honey is technically manuka honey with varying pollen counts—there is no adulteration in violation of the FDC Act.

Since the consumers could not demonstrate adulteration, the court also dismissed the breach of warranty claim and fraud claim. The fraud claim is not actionable because it is predicated on adulteration whereby the manufacturer (not bees) purposefully mixed manuka and non-manuka honey; the consumers have no facts to support that theory.

Product labeling is accurate and not misleading

The court concluded that product label is accurate because the consumers cannot allege adulteration, honey is a single ingredient food, and the chief floral source is manuka. Furthermore, since the label is accurate, a reasonable consumer cannot find it misleading. Trader Joe’s product is accurately labeled as 100 percent manuka honey.

Guilty plea, injunction for cheesemaker linked to listeriosis outbreak

Three years after its products sickened eight people in a Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) outbreak, Roos Foods, Inc., a Delaware cheese manufacturer, pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor count of violating the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDC Act) by introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. At the same time, Roos Foods and two of its owners entered into a consent decree of permanent injunction requiring them to cease receiving, preparing, processing, packing, holding and distributing all food products unless and until they bring operations into compliance with the FDC Act.

Roos Foods made ready-to-eat cheeses, including ricotta, queso fresco, and fresh cheese curd. In 2013, five adults and three newborns in Maryland and California had listeriosis—a serious, potentially fatal disease caused by L. mono—linked to Roos Foods’ cheese. The Department of Justice noted that L. mono is a “particularly significant public health risk” in ready-to-eat foods, because unlike many foodborne microbes, L. mono is capable of adapting and growing at refrigerator temperatures.

In March 2014, the FDA suspended Roos Foods’ food facility registration after linking the listeriosis outbreak to their cheese products and conducting facility inspections. The FDA’s inspection revealed significant sanitation deficiencies and found L. mono on 12 surfaces in the facility. Roos Foods has not reopened.