Kroger sued by environmental lawyer claiming the grocery giant's salad kits, fruit, and graham crackers contained lead levels that were too high

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A nonprofit has sued Kroger.Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • An environmental nonprofit filed suit against Kroger over claims related to lead levels in groceries.

  • The suit alleges that affected items include a private-label salad kit, frozen fruit, and bagels.

  • This same nonprofit previously sued Trader Joe's in a similar suit in 2021.

An environmental nonprofit has sued Kroger over claims that several of the grocery chain's private-label products — including a spinach-and-bacon salad kit, frozen fruit, and pre-sliced bagels — contain high lead levels. The legal spat is just the latest clash between retailers and environmental activists and attorneys over lead levels in products found in stores across the country.

Environmental attorney Vineet Dubey filed the suit against the grocery giant on Monday in Los Angeles County's Superior Court on behalf of the Ecological Alliance. Kroger did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, and has not yet filed a response to the Ecological Alliance's claims.

In the lawsuit, Dubey said that Ecological Alliance commissioned an "independent food testing lab" to test a number of Kroger products. The lawsuit says it found that Kroger's "Spinach With Bacon Salad Kit For One" contained 70.1 micrograms of lead, well over the state's "daily maximum exposure level" of 0.5 micrograms. The products mentioned in the lawsuit each belonged to one of Kroger's private label brands: the chain's namesake brand, Simple Truth, and Private Selection. Ecological Alliance said that it found lead content at least 13 times higher than California's daily maximum exposure level in Kroger's "Single Serving Canned Sweet Peas & Carrots," Simple Truth's "Organic Yellow Cling Diced Peaches & Pears," Kroger's "Crumbdillyicious Graham Crackers," Simple Truth's "Organic Frozen Berry Medley," and Kroger's "Cinnamon Raisin Pre-Sliced Bagels."

In a statement sent to Insider, Dubey said that Kroger "should immediately remove these items from its shelves and put into place new quality controls." The lawsuit is asking for the company to pull the products from its stores in California, lower the alleged lead levels in the items, add warnings to its packaging, and pay "civil penalties" of up to $2,500 per each violation.

In the lawsuit, Dubey said that Ecological Alliance warned Kroger, California's Attorney General, and the city attorneys in each large California city several times between June and October of 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the public officials "have failed to commence and diligently prosecute a cause of action against" Kroger.

The lawsuit touches upon fears over lead, a longtime public health concern in the United States. Exposure to the heavy metal through water, contaminated dust, and lead paint is believed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be linked to intellectual disabilities in children and infertility and neurological problems in adults. The CDC has identified "no safe blood lead level in children," noting that "even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect learning, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement." A 2021 study found that around half of children in the US have high levels of lead in their blood.

It's not the first time that Kroger has come under fire over allegations related to lead levels in its products. According to the Miami Herald, Kroger and other companies previously recalled a meat products over concerns about lead levels. Other large retailers have also received scrutiny in recent years. And in 2018, New York attorney general slapped Walmart and Target with a lawsuit alleging that the two companies sold lead-contaminated toys.

It's also not Dubey's first tangle with a major retailer. In 2021, the attorney filed a similar lawsuit against Trader Joe's on behalf of Ecological Alliance. That lawsuit is still ongoing, with a case management conference scheduled for March 21. Ecological Alliance itself has received backlash in the past. In 2020, a company called Best Brands Consumer Products sued Ecological Alliance over the nonprofit's claims about an unsafe fanny pack product.

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