Hershey Sued Over Chocolate Containing Heavy Metals

The Hershey Company is being sued for allegedly failing to disclose lead and cadmium in its dark chocolate bars.

Key takeaways:
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    Hershey Co. allegedly hid having lead and cadmium in its chocolate bars, according to a class action lawsuit.
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    Consumer Reports (CR) found heavy metals in Hershey's, Theo, Trader Joe's, and other chocolate brands.
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    Of 28 tested chocolate bars, 23 contained severe amounts of lead, cadmium, or both.
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    Heavy metals appear in chocolate for several reasons, but scientists are working to lower dangerous amounts.

The Hershey Company is being sued after a study finds its chocolate bars contain high amounts of lead and cadmium.

Christopher Lazazzaro, a customer of Hershey Co., sued the company two weeks after Consumer Reports said that a study of 28 dark chocolate bars found notable amounts of metal in their products.

Lazazzaro claimed he would have never bought Hershey's Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, Lily's Extra Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, and Lily's Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa had Hershey disclosed their metal content.

The Consumer Reports (CR) test found dangerous heavy metals in chocolate from Hershey's, Theo, Trader Joe's, and other popular brands.

For 23 of the 28 bars, eating just one ounce a day would put an adult over a level that public health officials and CR's experts say can be harmful to their health.

Exposure to even trace amounts of heavy metals over a lengthy time can have significant adverse effects on health.

Tunde Akinleye, CR’s food safety expert, oversaw this testing experiment and explained that the danger is highest for pregnant women and small children as the metals can cause developmental disorders and disrupt brain development.

However, too much lead consumption can be harmful at any age. Lead exposure has been linked to various health problems in adults, including adverse effects on the neurological system, infertility issues, and blood pressure and kidney problems.

Low levels of cadmium in food can build up in the kidneys over time. This can lead to kidney disease and weaker bones. Some research has also linked cadmium consumption or exposure to cancer.

Around 15 percent of people eat chocolate every day, according to a Mintel market report.

Lead can be found in other foods as well. Other studies show a significant number of foods like rice cakes, carrots, and oranges can have lead, depending on how they are cultivated.

While most of the dark chocolate bars tested had high amounts of lead or cadmium, five had very low amounts. Those bars included Mast Organic Dark Chocolate, Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate, Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate, Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate, and Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight.

"That shows it’s possible for companies to make products with lower amounts of heavy metals—and for consumers to find safer products that they enjoy"

Tunde Akinleye

Toxicologist Dr. Michael J. DiBartolomeis explained that because lead and cadmium appear to get into cacao differently, it will be a difficult problem to correct.

National Confectioners Association researchers found that cacao plants absorb cadmium from the soil. As for lead, it tends to appear in cacao after it is harvested. Often, after beans were collected and separated from pods, lead levels were low but rose as they dried in the sun.

As Dr. DiBartolomeis and other researchers continue studies on how metal might contaminate cacao and attempt to discover new ways to purify chocolate-making processes, he urges chocolate makers to check cacao-growing areas to determine cadmium levels before growing.

CR offered a few tips to chocolate lovers to help avoid metal consumption. Some advice includes trying one of the five bars with lower metal amounts, having chocolate with lower cacao percentages, avoiding giving chocolate to higher-risk communities like small children and pregnant women, and eating well-rounded, healthy diets to help counter metal consumption.

You may also choose to eat less chocolate overall.

“Having a serving a few days a week, especially with a product that has lower levels, means you can eat dark chocolate without worrying unduly,” said CR’s Tunde Akinleye.

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