Mac & Cheese Not So Natural? Kraft Faces Class Action Over 'Preservative-Free' Claims

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Kraft Mac & Cheese Proposed Class Action Lawsuit Accuses Company Of Falsely Claiming Its Products Are Preservative Free

Being able to trust what's on the label is a right we have as consumers, so allegations that Kraft Mac & Cheese is making false claims on boxes of its products are a big no-no. A new proposed lawsuit is alleging Kraft’s Original Flavor, Thick ‘n Creamy and Three Cheese varieties of mac & cheese say “No Artificial Flavors, Preservatives, or Dyes” on the box, when they all contain the synthetic preservative citric acid. 

According to industry experts, citric acid is one of the “most common and widely used preservatives in the world,” keeps food fresh by slowing the growth of mold, mildew, bacteria, and fungus.

Claims of fraudulent business practices

Plaintiff Kamilah Galbreth filed the proposed class action lawsuit in California Superior Court after buying the products a number of times last year. She says she only purchased them because of the “No Artificial Flavors, Preservatives, or Dyes” claim on the labels, and has lost out because of Kraft’s “unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices.”

“As a result of Defendant’s ongoing misrepresentations, Plaintiff is unable to rely on the Products’ advertising and labeling when deciding in the future whether to purchase the Products,” the lawsuit says. 

Galbreth argues that citric acid is made through heavy chemical processing that involves the use of a type of black mold, and that consuming the preservative has been associated with joint pain with swelling and stiffness, muscular and stomach pain, as well as shortness of breath. She accuses Kraft of “unfair marketing” and misleading consumers to gain an “unfair advantage over competitor products.”

Natural and chemical ways of preserving

Citric acid, like other preservatives used in food products, is a chemical that can “prevent or retard deterioration” but does not include common salt, sugars, vinegars, spices, or oils extracted from spices, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The United States Department of Agriculture says citric acid has a wide variety of uses, and for it preserves food  primarily though lowering the pH of the food. Director of Science Communication at Michigan State University Elisabeth Anderson says preservation is crucial in maintaining the safety and freshness of foods in the global food system, by stopping them from spoiling and oxidizing quickly. 

But it's not just chemical additives that are used to preserve food, there are also physical preservation methods such as salt curing, refrigeration, smoking, drying, and more to protect food quality. Humans have been doing both physical and chemical preservation for hundreds of years, she says. However, there are studies showing some chemical preservatives can be harmful to human health.

Always check the label!

No matter your view on preservatives, brands making false claims about their products is always a bad thing and according to the National Institute of Health that is a concerning growing trend. Of course, brands use labels to be eye-catching and appealing to consumers, but they have a core responsibility to tell the truth. 

Sentient Media reports how food labels often use carefully crafted language to attract and mislead consumers as a sales tactic. During the Covid-19 pandemic, shoppers became more interested in maintaining a healthy diet, research shows, and brands are trying to reflect that trend in their labeling — some falsey. 

Galbreth alleges Kraft’s false marketing made her and others “suffer economic injury” and they are entitled to damages for that.

Kraft's double trouble with class actions

Kraft's not just facing flak for its "preservative-free" claims but is also in the soup over its Velveeta cheese sauce. A separate New York class action lawsuit accuses the company of misleading cheese lovers, alleging that Velveeta Shells & Cheese might be more oil and whey than actual cheese. This second legal challenge adds another layer of scrutiny, emphasizing the importance of honest food labeling and consumer trust.

Keeping companies accountable

Both proposed class action lawsuits are a good reminder, whether you eat Kraft Mac & Cheese or Velveeta Shells & Cheese or not, to hold companies to account for their claims — and check the ingredients! Often brands will put grand claims on the front packaging of their products, so be sure to flip that carton over and check the details.

If you’re in California and have picked up some Kraft Mac & Cheese because of its preservative-free claims, you could be eligible to join Galbreth’s proposed class action lawsuit. She is suing for violations of California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law, and Breach of Express Warranty, and is seeking damages, restitution, and more.

The plaintiff and proposed class are represented by Michael T. Houchin, Craig W. Straub, and Zachary M. Crosner of Crosner Legal, P.C.

The Kraft Mac-n-Cheese false advertising class action lawsuit is Kamilah Galbreth, et al v. The Kraft Heinz Company, Case No. 1:23-cv-17095, in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Alameda.

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