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Trader Joe’s Retained Water in Raw Chicken Products Class Action

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Package of Trader Joe's All Natural Chicken Breasts

Trader Joe’s is generally considered an upscale place to buy food. However, the complaint for this class action alleges that the company sells poultry with “excess retained water,” in violation of federal law. The complaint alleges breaches of warranties, negligent and intentional misrepresentation, fraudulent omissions, and the violations of California consumer protection laws.

The Nationwide Class for this action is all US citizens who bought the products in their own state, between January 1, 2012 and the date the class is certified, for personal use and not for resale. There is also a California Subclass for California citizens who bought the products in California.

The poultry products in question include Trader Joe-branded, all-natural chicken parts:

  • Trader Joe’s All Natural Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • Trader Joe’s All Natural Chicken Thighs
  • Trader Joe’s All Natural Chicken Wings

The products are labeled as containing 5% retained water, the complaint says, when in fact they contain much more. Consumers pay for the additional water because they pay for the packages on a per-pound basis. The complaint claims that the products are thus “misbranded” and “economically adulterated.”

Where does the water come from? Poultry processors immerse chicken carcasses in water to chill them during processing. They are then taken out and begin to drain the water they’ve picked up in the bath. However, they always retain some water as a carry-over.

The complaint claims, “If allowed to drain and dry properly before packing, the chicken will give up much of the water that was picked up in the chilling process and rapidly return to near (within 4% of) its pre-immersion net weight…” Processors control the amount of water retained by their drip times or drying times and methods before the chicken is packaged.

If the poultry retains water, the company must acknowledge that on the label. Under the Federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) and California laws, raw poultry products must accurately declare the maximum amount of water the chicken retains at the time of packaging.

According to the complaint, when tested, Trader Joe’s chicken products sold in California contained an average of 9% of retained water, “most of which is hidden from the consumer in superabsorbent pads underneath the product.” Some randomly-selected packages contained up to 16% water weight, the complaint says. 

Since consumers pay for each package by weight, they are also paying for the water weight in the package even if it has drained off into the pad beneath the chicken parts. The complaint says, “For nearly every Trader Joe’s Product package tested, [Trader Joe’s] ‘Up to 5% Retained Water’ statement was false.”

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