The largest kosher food brand in the United States, Hebrew National, known for its tagline "We Answer to a Higher Authority," is being sued in federal court for allegedly not meeting the kosher standards it famously advertises.
The lawsuit, which was first filed by 11 plaintiffs in May, alleges that the popular brand has been negligent and violated several consumer fraud laws when it failed to follow its own standards for kosher meat.
According to accusations made in the complaint, Hebrew National products are not being made from 100% kosher beef and the food processing plants used by the company fail to follow the procedures necessary to meet its kosher definition.
Hebrew National's "deceptive and wrongful conduct is designed to mislead and deceive consumer into purchasing its Hebrew National products, at premium prices, by labeling and marketing it as 100% kosher," the complaint states.
ConAgra Foods Inc., the parent company of Hebrew National and defendant in the case, denies the allegations.
"Hebrew National hotdogs are kosher, and this lawsuit is without merit," according to a written statement from Teresa A. Paulsen, vice president of communications and external relations for ConAgra Foods. "Hebrew National's kosher status is certified by a well-recognized and authorized third party. There is close rabbinical supervision of the food preparation process and packaging equipment."
The complaint stipulates that Hebrew National receives meat products from AER Services Inc., an Illinois-based company that provides kosher meat processing and inspection services. In addition, Hebrew National employs a third party, Triangle K and Associates, to act as a certifier, guaranteeing the kosher nature of all AER products received.
"The Triangle K symbol is a trademarked logo that signifies 'kashruth' (kosher) as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish Law," the Hebrew National website states. "It's a symbol of integrity, representing the most trusted and reliable name in strict rabbinical food certification and supervision."
But according to the lawsuit, certain AER employees involved in the process have complained to supervisors at both AER and Triangle K that certain procedures were rendering the meat not kosher. The lawsuit alleges that despite warnings, little or nothing was done to fix the problem, "rather, the persons making the complaints were terminated or otherwise threatened with adverse retaliation, such as job transfers."
A statement from Triangle K described the accusations as "outrageously false and defamatory," claiming they had "been made by anonymous disgruntled individuals against Triangle-K's strict rabbinical supervision of Hebrew National products."
Neither AER Services nor Triangle K and Associates are listed as defendants in this lawsuit.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs are now pushing for the case to be granted class action status. Court documents indicate that ConAgra has until July 13 to respond to the class action complaint.
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