Katie Simpson bought frozen pizzas about five times in the past year, including a California Pizza Kitchen Personal Pizza Barbeque Chicken and the same maker’s Crispy Thin Crust Pizza Signature Pepperoni.
But when she learned they contained trans fat—an ingredient linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer—she felt as if she were sold poison.
That’s the argument being made in a $5 million federal class-action lawsuit that claims Nestle—makers of DiGiorno, Stouffer’s and California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas—is “placing profits over public health” by failing to remove trans fat.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego on behalf of Simpson, a mother of two young children. Her address isn’t given, but she lives in San Diego County.
“The most frequent of Ms. Simpson’s purchases of Nestle Trans Fat Pizzas were at the Target located at 2911 Jamacha Road” near Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego, said the suit [attached as a PDF].
The lawsuit says the frozen pizzas in question shouldn’t contain a toxic food additive banned all over the world, said Greg Weston, an attorney for the plaintiff.
California has banned trans fat in foods served in local restaurants, but no bans on trans fat exist for packaged foods. The cities of New York and Philadelphia are among local governments that have enacted bans against trans fat in restaurant food.
Weston said the suit seeks all monies Nestle has ever made from frozen pizzas.
In a statement, Nestle said it will vigorously defend itself against all “baseless allegations,’’ saying its pizza products are in strict compliance with FDA and USDA regulations.
According to California Pizza Kitchen, the case applies only to frozen pizzas, not to restaurants bearing that name.
No hearing date has been set in the case, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino. No jury trial has been demanded.
“Although there are safe, low-cost and commercially acceptable alternatives to trans fat, including those used in competing brands and even in a few Nestle and CPK products, defendants unfairly elect not to use those substitutes in the Nestle Trans Fat Pizzas in order to increase profit at the expense of consumer health,” says the 23-page suit.
The suit targets partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or PHVO, which it says is the main source of trans fat in the American diet and “used in dangerous quantities in the Nestle Trans Fat Pizzas.”
PHVO, invented in 1901 and patented in 1902 by German chemist Wilhelm, was initially a “wonder product” attractive to the packaged food industry “because it combines the low cost of unsaturated … fat with the flexibility and long shelf life of saturated fat,” the suit says.
“Given its toxic properties, few food companies continue to use PHVO,” the suit says. “Defendants, however, have decided not to follow their more responsible peers and cease using PHVO, instead placing profits over public health and deliberately poisoning their consumers.”
The suit cites research that PHVO causes cardiovascular heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and accelerates cognitive decline in diabetics.
In 2008, California became the first state to ban all restaurant food with artificial trans fat, a law affecting about 88,000 eating establishments, the suit said.
“Trans fats now may not be served in California’s schools or restaurants in an amount greater than half a gram per serving,” the suit says.
City News Service contributed to this report.