A California woman recently filed a class-action lawsuit against Nestle for its use of trans fats in DiGiorno, Stouffer’s, and California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas. Toxic substance lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm point to a similar lawsuit against McDonalds, which settled for $8.5 million in 2005.
In 2009, California became the first state to ban trans fat in all food facilities, followed by similar laws in thirteen other cities throughout the United States. The ban did not, however, apply to food sold or served in sealed packages, including Nestle’s frozen pizzas.
ABC News reported on a new European study that examined more than 12,000 men and women of all ages, tracking their lifestyle and eating habits over six years. The results were alarming: those eating trans fat, even as low as 1% daily intake, had a 48% greater chance of being diagnosed with depression. Americans ingest an average of 2.5% trans fat in their daily diets. Those who avoided trans fat, instead choosing to eat and cook with healthy fats such as olive oil, had lower rates of both depression and heart disease. Depression affects nearly 15 million American adults, and is the leading cause of disability among those between the ages of 15 and 44.
The theory is that unhealthy fats, such as trans and saturated, cause increased inflammation in the body. This increased inflammation raises the bad type of cholesterol (LDL), and lowers the good type of cholesterol (HDL). High LDL levels are known to increase risk of heart disease, which is the number one killer of American men and women. Healthy fats, which are found in all-natural foods like avocado and salmon, raise HDL levels and lower LDL levels.
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Many food manufacturers use trans fat because it helps food stay fresh longer, gives it a less greasy appearance, and elongates the shelf life. Although the FDA and USDA require packaged food to have nutritional labels, many companies figured out how to mislead the public. Some foods may list zero trans fat on the label, but in the ingredients, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is listed, which is just another term for trans fat.
This California lawsuit is somewhat similar to the case against McDonald’s in 2005. The suit stemmed from McDonald’s 2002 announcement that it would cut trans fat levels in its french fries by 48%, saturated fat by 16%, and increased polyunsaturated fat (the good fat) by 167%. The changes were projected to be fully implemented by 2003, which did not occur. In the settlement, McDonald’s agreed to spend $1.5 million on public notices concerning the status of its fat initiatives, and donate $7 million to the American Heart Association.
One study by the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that trans fat causes 30,000 or more premature deaths by heart disease each year. The California lawsuit is referring to trans fat as a toxic carcinogen, and states that Nestle consistently puts profits over public health. The company currently produces about half of all frozen pizzas in the United States.
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The California plaintiff has two children who love to eat pizza, as most kids do. The woman is outraged that the food her kids have been eating contains a toxic substance that has been completely banned in many countries around the world, including Sweden and Austria. Nestle is a Swiss multinational food company, and, ironically, Switzerland implemented its own trans fat ban in 2008. Nestle is currently reviewing the $5 million lawsuit and claims it will vigorously defend itself.
Toxic contaminant lawsuits are very complex, and involve negligent companies that expose dangerous substance to the public that cause devastating damage. Food contamination lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm believe these types of cases are crucial to protect the public from the negligence and greed of large corporations.