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Hersheys Sued for Millions Over Dark Chocolate Allegedly Containing Excessive Levels of Lead and Cadmium

Hershey's Mildly Sweet Special Dark Chocolate shown

Hershey’s Mildly Sweet Special Dark Chocolate

A Long Island man filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against The Hershey Company Wednesday alleging that the company’s dark chocolate contains dangerous levels of heavy metals.

In a 24-page class action complaint in a federal court in New York, Christopher Lazazzaro claimed that Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, and Lily’s Extreme Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa all contain harmful levels of lead and cadmium that are not disclosed on the products’ packaging. Hershey purchased Lily in 2021 for $425 million.

Lazazzaro’s allegations stem from a December 2022 Consumer Reports article titled, “Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate.”

The article warns, “there’s a dark side to this ‘healthier’ chocolate,” and says, “Research has found that some dark chocolate bars contain cadmium and lead—two heavy metals linked to a host of health problems in children and adults.” The article also explains that these naturally-occurring substances find their way into chocolate in a variety of ways, including accumulating in cacao beans as they grow and collecting in dust particles that settle on the beans. Accordingly, Hershey’s and Lily’s chocolate were just two of over two dozen chocolates found to contain metal.

The piece went on to explain that while “there are no federal limits for the amount of lead and cadmium most foods can contain,” California safety standards could be helpful in determining acceptable levels of metals in chocolate.

The Consumer Reports study found that Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate contained 265 percent of the California limit for lead, and Lily’s Extreme Dark and Extra Dark Chocolate contained 143 percent and 144 percent of the allowable level, respectively. It also notes that the consumption of lead and cadmium can be very dangerous — even for those who consume just an ounce of chocolate a day.

Lazazzaro alleges that the Pennsylvania-based chocolatier “knew and could not be unaware of the existence of lead and cadmium” in its chocolate.

“Consumers rely on [Hershey] to be truthful regarding the ingredients,” the complaint adds, and notes that “people are concerned with what is in the food that they are putting into their bodies, as well as parents and caregivers being concerned with what they are feeding to the children in their care.”

Lazazzaro’s proposed class action asserts claims for deceptive business practices, false advertising, breach of warranty, and unjust enrichment and seeks at least $5 million in damages, including at least $500 per transaction under New York law.

Hershey’s sales of chocolate have soared since 2020. The company reportedly saw 2021 U.S. retail sales over $17.7 billion — a $14.6 billion increase from prior years.

Hershey CEO Michele Buck told CNN that the company attributed the grown to the public’s need for self-reward during a time of high stress and commented, “We know that part of that is they want to reward themselves when times are tough. They also use these products to relieve stress. And we think that those trends will continue.”

Counsel for the parties did not immediately respond to request for comment.

 You can read the full complaint here.

[screengrab via YouTube]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos