ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY PRESS RELEASE
Date: January 22, 2016
* Settlement has a potential positive worldwide-impact on how companies screen for lead in processed foods
SANTA ANA, Calif. – The nation’s largest multinational confectionery, food, and beverage conglomerate, Mondelēz International, Inc., formerly Kraft Foods, will pay more than $758,000 in a consumer protection settlement for illegally selling ginger snap cookies in excess of California lead limits without a warning. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA), in conjunction with nine other California District Attorney’s Offices, the California Attorney General’s Office, and the non-profit Center for Environmental Health (CEH), reached a settlement in a suit filed simultaneously with a consent judgment yesterday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Orange County Superior Court, which is pending approval from an Orange County Superior Court judge. Mondelēz will pay a total of $758,250 in civil penalties, costs, and attorneys’ fees in the proposed settlement.
In 2013, the OCDA initiated an investigation of Nabisco Ginger Snaps after a CEH found high levels of lead in products containing ginger during their investigation. The case was prosecuted by The California Food, Drug, and Medical Device Task Force, made up of the District Attorney’s Offices of Orange, Alameda, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. The Task Force prosecutes multi-jurisdictional actions involving product safety and labeling of food, drug, and medical devices in California. The case was filed in Orange County.
Deputy District Attorney Tracy Hughes of the Consumer Protection Unit prosecuted this case for the OCDA.
Circumstances of the Case
Mondelēz is the largest manufacturer of processed snack foods in the nation and among the largest worldwide. Mondelēz brands include Nabisco, Oreo, Cadbury, and Trident. The Nabisco Ginger Snap cookies were the subject of the lawsuit.
Lead is a neurotoxin that affects virtually every organ system, primarily the central nervous system, and particularly the developing brain. Children are at a greater risk than adults of suffering from the neurotoxic effects of lead. While no safe lead exposure threshold has been identified, California’s Proposition 65 limits lead exposure to .5 micrograms per serving per day without a warning.
The OCDA testing of the Nabisco brand Ginger Snaps revealed lead levels up to nine times the legal limit in one serving. Testing was subsequently conducted throughout the state of California on different lots of the product. Lead sources in the cookies were linked to supplies of molasses and ginger. Experts traced the high levels of lead found in molasses to the way they were manufactured as well as the raw sugar used, which also contained lead. Sources of lead in powdered ginger have been linked to both contaminated soil in which ginger is harvested and the brining process in which ginger is dried.
Mondelēz has agreed in the consent judgment to strict testing protocols that limit lead in its Nabisco Ginger Snap cookies to no more than 30 parts per billion per serving. The company has also agreed to fund ongoing independent auditing of its products for lead and will monitor supply chains to ensure raw materials are within acceptable limits for lead.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas believes the settlement has a potential worldwide-impact on the safety of processed snack foods, and stated, “Having safe foods is one of our basic community needs, especially cookies that we give to our children. The OCDA is committed to protecting the health and safety of consumers. We expect that this settlement will bring about constructive changes to the way all companies screen for lead in processed foods, which in turn means a safer product for consumers.”
“The levels of lead found in Nabisco’s Ginger Snap cookies posed a serious public health threat, potentially impacting the brain development of our children,” said Attorney General Harris. “Parents need accurate information to make educated food choices for their children. My office will continue to enforce Proposition 65 to guarantee that all Californians are fully informed when hazardous substances and chemicals can be found in consumer products.”
“Lead is a stunningly toxic chemical that has no place in our children’s food. We are pleased that Mondelēz has agreed to strict procedures to insure that kids are safe when they eat ginger snaps,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of the CEH.
TONY RACKAUCKAS, District Attorney
Susan Kang Schroeder, Chief of Staff