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Hershey’s and Trader Joe’s face heavy metal lawsuits in chocolate

The Hershey Company and Trader Joe’s are the subject of a separate class action court case alleging that some of their dark chocolate bars contain lead and cadmium.

These lawsuits follow a December 2022 report on heavy metals in dark chocolate by Consumer Reports. The study found lead and cadmium in all 28 bars tested.

Five of the bars contained safe levels of these heavy metals. The other 23 bars contained potentially harmful levels of heavy metals for adults consuming an ounce a day.

People choose dark chocolate for its health benefits. Studies have shown that it contains high levels of antioxidants and low levels of sugar. It can prevent cardiovascular disease, improve heart health, and boost regulation of blood pressure, insulin levels, and fat metabolism.

Long-term exposure to small amounts of heavy metals in harmful products can have serious health effects. The risk is highest in pregnant women and young children. Heavy metals can cause developmental issues, impact brain development, and contribute to lower IQ.

In adults, exposure to lead can cause kidney damage, reproductive problems, high blood pressure, immune system suppression, and nervous system problems.

The two class actions seek at least $5 million in damages, including at least $500 per settlement under New York law. The attorneys filed the lawsuits in late December and early January in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip, New York.

Dark chocolate deemed safe

Not all dark chocolate products contain potentially harmful levels of heavy metals. The Consumer Reports study showed that five of the 28 bars tested were safe.

“This shows that it is possible for companies to make products with fewer heavy metals – and for consumers to find safer products that they value,” said Tunde Akinleye, food safety researcher at Consumer Reports who led the study.

The safe dark chocolate in the study included bars made by Ghirardelli, Mast, Taza Chocolate and Valrhona.

Many brands contain high levels of heavy metals

Brands with bars containing high levels of lead, cadmium or both in the study included Dove, Godiva, Hershey’s, Lindt and Trader Joe’s.

The lawsuits include the following chocolate brands and bars:

  • Alter Eco Classic Organic Dark Chocolate Blackout 85% Cocoa
  • Beyond Good Pure Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Beyond Good Pure Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa
  • Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Chocolove Extreme Dark Chocolate 88% Cocoa
  • Dove promises deeper dark chocolate with 70% cocoa
  • Endangered Species Bold + Silky Dark Chocolate, 72% Cacao
  • Equal Exchange Organic Extra Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa
  • Godiva Signature Dark Chocolate 72% Cocoa
  • Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Hershey’s Special Lightly Sweetened Dark Chocolate
  • Hu Organic Simple Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Extra Dark Chocolate Lily’s 70% Cocoa
  • Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao
  • Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Lindt Excellence 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate
  • Pascha Very Dark Organic Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
  • Extra Dark Chocolate Scharffen Berger 82% Cocoa
  • Theo Bio Pure Dark 70% Cocoa
  • Théo Pure Extra Dark Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
  • Tony’s Chocolonely Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
  • Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 72% Cocoa
  • Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cocoa

The California maximum allowable dose for lead (0.5 micrograms) and cadmium (4.1 micrograms) was used for the Consumer Reports study.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has a higher allowable dose level for lead. It limits daily lead intake to 2.2 micrograms for children and 8.8 micrograms for women of childbearing age.

How Heavy Metals Contaminate Chocolate

A three-year study published in August 2022 found that lead and cadmium enter cocoa beans in different ways. This requires separate solutions to reduce each type of metal.

Cocoa plants absorb cadmium from the soil. The roots absorb the cadmium and deposit it inside the cocoa beans. The metal accumulates in the grains as the tree grows.

Lead contamination takes place after the cocoa beans are harvested. The outer husk of wet beans becomes contaminated with lead as the beans dry out and ferment on the outside. Lead contaminated soil and dust adhere to the beans during the drying, fermentation and transport phases of production.

The study resulted from a legal settlement involving the National Confectioners Association and As You Sow. The Confectioners’ Association represents chocolate manufacturers. As You Sow is a non-profit organization that promotes corporate responsibility for environmental and social issues.

Experts, including Consumer Report researcher Akinleye, recommend consuming dark chocolate in moderation to reduce exposure to heavy metals.

“Having a serving a few days a week, especially with a product that has lower levels, means you can eat dark chocolate without worrying too much,” Akinleye said.