Naperville Business Lawyer Discusses Warning Labels on Coffee

Did you know that about two-thirds of American adults drink at least one cup of coffee in an average day? The average U.S. coffee drinker consumes just under three cups per day—with the average cup being nine ounces. All told, this works about to be 400 million cups per day and 140 billion cups annually, placing the U.S. at the top of the list of coffee-consuming countries.

As a business lawyer and business owner myself, I personally know many people who simply do not function as well until they have had their morning cup of coffee. I also know that studies have gone back and forth for years regarding the potential health benefits and hazards of coffee. The debate got a shot in the arm last week, however, when a judge in California ruled that coffee retailers must post warnings regarding the possible risk of cancer for coffee drinkers.

A Brief History of the Lawsuit

In 2010, a non-profit called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Court against several dozen coffee retailers, including Starbucks, 7-Eleven, and many smaller entities. The suit alleged that coffee contains a carcinogenic chemical called acrylamide—a byproduct of the bean roasting process—and that retailers failed to warn consumers that their coffee posed a cancer risk. The plaintiffs claimed that the failure to warn was a violation of the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, which is more commonly known as Proposition 65. Under Prop 65, businesses must provide customers a “clear and reasonable warning” when carcinogenic substances are present in a food, beverage, or consumer product. Acrylamide has been recognized as a carcinogen since 2002.

The defendants acknowledged that coffee does contain trace amounts of acrylamide but pointed out that many other foods do too, including potatoes, baked goods, and prune juice—and not all of them carry warning labels. They also said that no reliable scientific study has found acrylamide in coffee to present a substantial danger.

Under California law, the burden of proof in these types of cases is on the defendant to show that a product does not pose a health risk. Last week, Judge Elihu Berle ruled that Starbucks and its co-defendants failed to do so. The decision is a preliminary one for now, and the parties have until next week to file objections. If the ruling stands, however, the defendants could be fined up to $2,500 for each cup of coffee served since 2002. In addition, warnings will need to be posted wherever coffee is sold.

Concerns for Illinois Business Owners

While the recent ruling is likely to affect many coffee shop owners in California, it will have little to no impact on most business owners here in Illinois—at least not directly. Prop 65 applies to businesses with more than 10 employees that do business in California, not necessarily headquartered in the Golden States. This means that if you own company that sells products nationwide (including in California), your business is likely subject to Prop 65’s requirements, but exemptions are also possible.

If you would like to learn more about regulatory compliance for interstate businesses, contact an experienced Naperville business law attorney. Call 630-756-1160 for a confidential consultation at The Gierach Law Firm today. We will help you understand your available options and work with you in providing for the future of your company.





Orange County Register