Lead in Lunchables: Plaintiff Sues Kraft Heinz for Consumer Deception

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April 22, 2024

by Brian Eckert

Milberg attorneys have filed a class action lawsuit in response to a finding by Consumer Reports that Lunchables, the popular school lunch kits that let kids assemble their own meals from deli meat, cheese, and crackers, contain unsafe levels of lead.

Anyone who purchased Lunchables products may be eligible to join this lawsuit as a class member. Milberg consumer protection attorneys are representing the proposed class.

CR Testing Finds Concerning Lead Levels

Lunchables are one of Kraft Heinz’s most popular brands. Featuring fun, colorful packaging, the stack and build compartmentalized meals, introduced in 1988, have long been a hit with children and parents alike. Thanks to a deal with grades K-12 schools nationwide, Lunchables are even served in school cafeterias. They have a dominant share of the market for kids’ “combination lunches” and bring in more than $1 billion in annual net sales for Kraft Heinz.

But are Lunchables really good choices for your kid’s lunch? That is the question Consumer Reports set out to answer when it tested twelve lunch and snack kits from Kraft Heinz and other brands.

What CR found was “a lot to be concerned about,” including high levels of lead, a powerful neurotoxin known to cause cognitive deficits, mental illness, dementia, and hypertension.

The kits provide only about 15 percent of the 1,600 daily calories that a typical 8-year-old requires, but that small amount of food puts them fairly close to the daily maximum limit for lead.

CR testing detected lead in the following Kraft Heinz Lunchables products:

  • Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers
  • Lunchables Pizza with Pepperoni
  • Lunchables Extra Cheesy Pizza

The testing revealed that each of the products contained more than 69% of the maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead under California regulations. CR explains that this standard was used because there are no federal limits for heavy metals in most foods, and California’s lead standards are the strongest available.

Lunchables Extra Cheesy Pizza was found to have 69% of the MADL for lead; Lunchables Pizza with Pepperoni had 73% of the MADL for lead; and Lunchables Turkey and Cheddar Cracker Stackers contained 74% of the lead MADL.

“That’s a relatively high dose of heavy metals, given the small serving sizes of the products,” said Eric Boring, PhD, the chemist who led CR’s testing. “Even if one meal kit doesn’t push a child over the limit, it puts them in the danger zone because there will likely be exposure from other sources.”

Kraft Heinz told CR, “All our foods meet strict safety standards” and that lead occurs “naturally in the environment and may be present in low levels in food products.”

Lead is known to cause developmental problems in children and high blood pressure, kidney harm, and other health problems in adults. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, according to the EPA. Even low levels of lead in blood have been demonstrated to impact a child’s learning, attention, and academic achievement, and these effects can be permanent, says the CDC.

Lunchables Lead Lawsuit Makes Consumer Deception Claims

Kraft Heinz does not disclose to consumers that Lunchables contain unsafe lead levels, which makes the products improperly, deceptively, and misleadingly labeled, alleges Milberg’s class action complaint.

Plaintiff Vincent Palmeri claims that the phrase “100% Freshness Guaranteed” on the front of Lunchables packaging “would be interpreted by any reasonable consumer as a guarantee that the Products are safe to be consumed.”

Palmeri states that consumers like him relied on Kraft Heinz to truthfully disclose the ingredients in Lunchables because they lack the meaningful ability to independently test products for unsafe substances like lead. This superior knowledge possessed by Kraft Heinz imposes a duty on them to provide consumers with accurate information about the contents of their products, Palmeri argues. Omitting lead from product labeling is therefore deceptive and illegal.

The Products’ contamination is particularly egregious given the potentially severe and irreversible consequences of lead consumption and the fact that these Products are marketed to be consumed by children.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, makes claims for violations of New York General Business Law and negligence per se. It seeks to establish the following classes of consumers:

  • All consumers who purchased the Lunchables products anywhere in the United States during the applicable statute of limitations period
  • New York consumers who purchased the products in the state at any time during the applicable statute of limitations period

Class members may be able to recover monetary, statutory, compensatory, treble, and punitive damages. They are represented by Nick Suciu III of Milberg.

Mr. Suciu focuses his practice on advertising, marketing, and mislabeling class actions in the dietary and sports supplement spaces. He helps to lead Milberg’s class action efforts involving consumer fraud and defective products.

Since 1965 Milberg has filed thousands of class action lawsuits, recovered billions of dollars for our clients, and used litigation to curb corporate wrongdoing and hold big companies accountable.