Extensive case of mislabeling: Investigation alleges Whole Foods Overcharges

New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) said Wednesday 24 June that an ongoing investigation on Whole Foods Market stores has found systemic overcharging of its customers for pre-packaged food.

The investigation by the DCA tested 80 different types of pre-packaged food from the city’s Whole Foods locations (eight were open at the time of the investigation; a ninth has since opened). The inspection found all categories included products with incorrect weights, which led to overcharges that ranged from 80 cents for a package of pecan panko to $14.84 for coconut shrimp. The overcharges were especially prevalent in packages that had been labelled with exactly the same weight when it would be practically impossible for all of the packages to weigh the same amount. The investigation also examined vegetable platters, nuts, chicken tenders and berries.

The DCA added, in addition, that 89 percent of the tested packages were not in line with the federal standards for the maximum amount “that an individual package can deviate from the actual weight”.

Whole Foods said in a statement: “We disagree with the DCA’s overreaching allegations and we are vigorously defending ourselves. We cooperated fully with the DCA from the beginning until we disagreed with their grossly excessive monetary demands. Despite our requests to the DCA, they have not provided evidence to back up their demands nor have they requested any additional information from us, but instead have taken this to the media to coerce us.”

Both Whole Foods and DCA declined to discuss specific numbers, citing the fact that the investigation is ongoing.

Food recalls in EU – Week 23/2015

This week on the EU RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) we can find the following notifications:

1. Alerts followed by a recall from consumers:

– Biocontaminants: atropine (198.5 µg/kg – ppb) and scopolamine (45 µg/kg – ppb) in organic polenta cornmeal from Germany, following an official control on the market. Notified by Germany, distributed also to Austria;

– Foreign bodies: glass fragments in white wine in bottle from South Africa, following company’s own check. Notified by Finland, distributed also to Denmark and Sweden;

– Foreign bodies: plastic fragments (size 7-17 by 5-14 mm) in frozen fish cutlets from Germany, following a consumer complaint. Notified by Netherlands;

– Foreign bodies: wire 1.5 cm long in chocolate bar from Germany, following a consumer complaint. Notified by Germany, distributed also to Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland;

– Mycotoxins: ochratoxin A (433.5 µg/kg – ppb) in liquorice root from Turkey, via the United Kingdom, following an official control on the market. Notified by Ireland;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Listeria monocytogenes (presence/25g) in raw milk cheeses from France, following an official control on the market. Notified by France, distributed also to Denmark, Netherlands and Spain;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: norovirus (GI /25g) in frozen raspberries from Serbia, via Belgium, following an official control on the market. Notified by France;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: shigatoxin-producing Escherichia coli (H11, eae+, stx1+) in frozen burgers from Spain, following company’s own check. Notified by France, distributed also to Monaco.

2. Information for attention/for follow up followed by a recall from consumers:

None.

3. Alerts followed by a withdrawal from the market:

– Biocontaminants: histamine (1100 mg/kg – ppm) in frozen tuna steak from Vietnam, following company’s own check. Notified by Belgium, distributed also to Estonia, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden;

– Foreign bodies: glass fragments (very small glass particles) in wine from South Africa, following company’s own check. Notified by Netherlands, distributed also to Italy;

– Heavy metals: mercury (0.5 mg/kg – ppm) in five-flavour berry (Schisandra chinensis) from Singapore, via the Netherlands, following an official control on the market. Notified by Sweden, distributed also to Finland, Germany and Italy;

– Mycotoxins: deoxynivalenol (DON) (2198 µg/kg – ppb) in salted popcorn manufactured in the Czech Republic, with raw material from Hungary, following an official control on the market. Notified by Poland, distributed also to Germany;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Listeria monocytogenes (3100 CFU/g) in smoked mackerel processed in Romania, with raw material from Spain, following an official control on the market. Notified by Hungary;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Listeria monocytogenes (400 CFU/g) in gorgonzola cheese from Italy, following an official control on the market. Notified by Switzerland, distributed also to France;

– Pathogenic micro-organisms: Salmonella spp. (presence/25g) in ginger from the United Kingdom, with raw material from Nigeria, following an official control on the market. Notified by Netherlands;

– Pesticide residues: ethephon (2.9 mg/kg – ppm) in pineapples from Mauritius, following company’s own check. Notified by Netherlands, distributed also to Romania.

4. Seizures:

None.

5. Border rejections:

  • aflatoxins (B1 = 16.4; Tot. = 17.4 µg/kg – ppb) in dried whole red chilli peppers from India
  • aflatoxins (B1 = 193; Tot. = 225 µg/kg – ppb) in groundnuts from India, processed in Egypt
  • aflatoxins (B1 = 96.9; Tot. = 152 µg/kg – ppb) in pistachios in shell and in pistachio kernels (B1 = 20; Tot. = 22 / B1 = 71; Tot. = 80 µg/kg – ppb) from the United States
  • biphenyl (1.66 mg/kg – ppm) in lemons from Turkey
  • dithiocarbamates (0.15 mg/kg – ppm) in vine leaves from Turkey
  • FEED: arsenic (220 mg/kg – ppm) in manganese oxide from India
  • FEED: aflatoxins (B1 = 189 µg/kg – ppb) in groundnut kernels for bird feed from the Gambia
  • fraudulent health certificate(s) (dated after the arrival to the BIP) for refined hazelnut oil from Turkey
  • Salmonella spp. (presence /25g) in frozen shrimps (Penaeus vannamei) from Vietnam
  • too high content of sulphite and undeclared sulphite (4958 mg/kg – ppm) in dried apricots from Turkey, via Lebanon
  • undeclared milk ingredient, wheat and nuts in and insufficient labelling of sesame seed-based confectionery (barazeq) from Lebanon