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Trader Joe's sued over alleged lead and cadmium in dark chocolate

Trader Joe's customers in New York filed two separate class-action lawsuits against the company this week, alleging that the grocery store chain failed to warn customers about heavy metals found in its dark chocolate.

One lawsuit argues that Trader Joe's should have known there were traces of cadmium and lead in the chocolate. Instead, Trader Joe's allegedly decided to "ignore the health of the consuming public in pursuit of profit," the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York states.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of New York City resident Tamakia Herd, also alleges Trader Joe's purposely omitted the heavy metals presence on its chocolate packaging, further deceiving its customers. Herd eats two dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe's every week, the suit claims.

Trader Joe's allegedly knew that, if it disclosed the heavy metal amounts on its labels, customers probably wouldn't have purchased the chocolate, claims the second lawsuit from Long Island resident Thomas Ferrante. The Ferrante lawsuit, also filed Wednesday, seeks $550 in damages for every time he or other class members bought Trader Joe's chocolate.

Trader Joe's is being sued for unjust enrichment and for violating New York state general business regulations.

The lawsuits center on Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao and Dark Chocolate Lover's 85% Cacao bars, which were found to contain high levels of lead and cadmium in a Consumer Reports study released in December.

The California-based grocer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Last month, scientists at Consumer Reports tested the heavy metal content of chocolate bars from Hershey's, Trader Joe's and other vendors. CR found cadmium and lead in all 28 brands of chocolate it tested. For 23 of the bars, consuming just an ounce a day would deliver a potentially harmful level of one of the metals for an adult, CR said. Five of the bars tested above those levels for both cadmium and lead.

Long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a slew of issues. In young children, lead exposure can lead to delayed brain development, problems with hearing and speech, a shortened attention span and learning and behavior problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cadmium exposure can damage kidneys, lungs and bones, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Hershey's, which is facing its own lawsuit over CR's findings, deferred to the National Confectioners Association for comment. The trade group previously objected to CR's use of levels set by California, noting that the state doesn't set federal food safety standards.

"The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements," the confectioners association said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch last month. "Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible."

The confectioners association in August released research showing ways that lead and cadmium in chocolate could be reduced, including having cocoa farmers plant new tree stock.

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