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Judge tosses HPP-treated juice lawsuit vs Hain Celestial; says plaintiff derailed his own case

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By Elaine Watson+

10-Jul-2014
Last updated on 11-Jul-2014 at 00:18 GMT

Judge: 'The articles the plaintiffs cite contradict the allegation upon which their entire complaint hinges.'
Judge: 'The articles the plaintiffs cite contradict the allegation upon which their entire complaint hinges.'

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Hain Celestial over the marketing of its BluePrint high-pressure-processed (HPP) juices on the grounds that the plaintiff derailed his own case by submitting scientific papers to the court which contradicted his own arguments.

What you can and can’t say about HPP-treated beverages without getting into legal hot water has been a subject of intense debate recently, with the FDA confirming that you “can't call [a juice] ‘fresh ‘if you put it under HPP  [see 21 CFR 101.95 ], but acknowledging that with respect to the word ‘raw’, there is no specific regulation.

Meanwhile, manufacturers of some HPP-treated juices have been slapped with false advertising lawsuits alleging that shoppers have been duped into paying over the odds for a product that is essentially the same as regular heat pasteurized juice.

Plaintiff: BluePrint products are nothing more than run-of-the-mill, pasteurized juices

Hain Celestial, which owns the BluePrint Cleanse super-premium juice brand, was one of the most high profile targets, finding itself at the receiving end of a class action lawsuit filed in California last December by plaintiff Samuel F Alamilla alleging that it falsely advertises its HPP-treated juices as ‘Unpasteurized’ and ‘100% Raw’.

Alamilla also alleged that HPP’s effects are “identical to those of traditional pasteurization – inactivated enzymes, inactivated probiotics, altered physical properties of the product, and denatured proteins” and that the BluePrint products are therefore “nothing more than run-of-the-mill, pasteurized juices”.

Judge: The articles the plaintiffs cite contradict the allegation upon which their entire complaint hinges

However, in a July 3 order dismissing the case with prejudice (which means it is effectively closed), US district judge Vince Chhabria pointed out that to support his arguments, the plaintiff had submitted academic papers which undermined his own case.

Alamilla, noted Chhabria, “quotes and incorporates by reference an article that concludes that pressurization has ‘little or no effects on nutritional and sensory quality aspects of foods’,” while “both articles repeatedly make the point that pressurization has less impact on nutritional value than pasteurization”.

 And this effectively contradicts his central argument, added Chhabria, who did not however directly address whether HPP products should be considered 'raw'.

The articles the plaintiffs cite thus contradict the allegation upon which their entire complaint hinges—namely, that pressure treatment deprives juice of nutritional value to a similar degree as pasteurization. Accordingly, the complaint is dismissed with prejudice.”

Avure: HPP products should be considered raw

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA earlier this year, leading HPP provider Avure Technologies Inc (which is not named in the lawsuit), said HPP doesn't have the destructive effects claimed by some of its detractors.

A similar case filed against Suja Life over claims made about its HPP-treated juices was voluntarily dismissed in May 2014. However, the firm no longer uses the word 'raw' on its packaging

Indeed, Dr Errol Raghubeer, VP microbiology & food technology at Avure, pointed out that one of the primary reasons firms use HPP rather than traditional heat-pasteurization is precisely because key nutrients are not damaged.  

He told FoodNavigator-USA: “Under the HPP conditions used for the commercial application of HPP to juice and other food products, vitamins such as ascorbic acid, niacin and folic acid in orange juice; bioactive compounds such as chlorophyll and lutein in wheat grass; phytochemicals such as chicoric and chlorogenic acids in Echinacea purpurea; and food enzyme systems such as polyphenol oxidase and pectin methyl esterase, among others, are not affected.”

Asked about probiotics, he said: “Most probiotic microorganisms (strains of lactic acid bacteria) are not significantly inactivated under these processing conditions. These strains of bacteria quickly reach original population levels after HPP.

“These are the primary microbiological determent of the shelf life of HPP products and it is the reason, together with the control of enzyme activity, that HPP products require refrigeration for microbiological and chemical stability and should be considered raw.”

Attorney: No reasonable consumer could think that packaged juices are not processed in any way

Meanwhile, Rebecca Cross, an attorney at San Francisco-based law firm BraunHagey & Borden LLP, argued that consumers generally understand 'raw' to mean unheated, adding: "No reasonable consumer could think that packaged juices are not processed in any way." 

What is high pressure processing?

HPP allows products to be treated in their final packaging, with flexible containers carrying the product into a high-pressure chamber, which is flooded with cold water and pressurized.

The pressure causes lethal damage to the cellular structure of bacteria, molds and yeasts, but maintain colors, textures, flavors and nutrients that can be damaged by heat treatment, enabling firms to significantly increase the shelf-life of products and retain their ‘clean-label’ credentials by avoiding additives.

Click HERE to read more about HPP and 'raw' claims.

The case is Samuel  F Alamilla et al v Hain Celestial Group Inc et al, 13-cv-05595.

How are HPP-treated juices performing? Find out at the FoodNavigator-USA Beverage Entrepreneurs Forum  on July 23. Click HERE to register for FREE.

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