Of Lima Beans and Peanuts: The Law of Adulterated Food

I recently enjoyed a container of “Hand-Cooked Virginia Peanuts” made by a noted Virginia company with the word “peanut” prominently in its corporate name. Thus, on the container itself, easy to see and discern, there were two prominent references to “peanuts” – one in the product name, and one in the name of the manufacturer. Yet, while I was eating those yummy, yummy peanuts, I noticed this disclaimer written on the container: “CONTAINS PEANUTS.” Really?  I thought I was eating lima beans! Given that I had now seen the word “peanuts” written sideways, upside-down, and in six different languages, I decided to read further: “Manufactured on shared equipment in a facility that processes peanuts.” There it is again! Peanuts.  (By the way, with whom do they “share” their equipment?)

You know what this means? Sometime, somewhere, somebody ate some peanuts that he did not know were peanuts, became ill, and almost died. Then he hired a lawyer.  (Before you get all fired up about my insensitivity to peanut allergies, my own son is allergic to peanuts. Further, I had my own anaphylactic reaction to fire ants, which could be the subject of another whole blog post.). Whatever the case, I am reminded of how far we have come in the area of product safety warnings. Of course, consumers must be adequately informed of a product’s features and tendencies. But, come on, now! I really did know I was not eating lima beans.  I don’t even like lima beans.

In many states, including South Carolina, there are laws about adulterated or misbranded food. Indeed, in our state it is found at section 39-25-10 of the South Carolina Code, and titled “South Carolina Food and Cosmetic Act.” I suppose there’s some interesting legislative history which would explain why they combine food and cosmetics in the same statute. But that’s for another day. For good measure, we note this  statute does not include any commodity subject to packaging or labeling requirements imposed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act or the eighth paragraph of the “Bureau of Animal Industry” section of the Virus-Serum-Toxin Act. Who knew? The statute does prohibit the manufacture or sale of food or cosmetics that are adulterated or misbranded. A food is deemed to be adulterated if it contains any poisonous or deleterious substances which may render it injurious to health. Food is deemed misbranded if the labeling is false or misleading.  There is more to the statute, but I will leave the details for your late reading pleasure. Nothing on peanut warnings, mind you.

While I am not a regular consumer of cosmetics, perhaps some of our readers would be interested to know that the section on adulterated cosmetics “shall not apply to coal-tar hair dye, the label of which bears the following legend conspicuously displayed there on: ‘Caution-This product contains ingredients which may cause skin irritation on certain individuals and a preliminary test according to accompanying directions should first be made. This product must not be used for dying the eyelashes or eyebrows; to do so may cause blindness.’” Moreover, under this particular paragraph, the term “hair dye” shall not include eyelash dyes or eyebrow dyes.  Further, a cosmetic is deemed adulterated if it consists of “any filthy, putrid or decomposed substance”.  I am not making this up.

In the meantime, I think I’ll go back and have some more peanuts. But I better read the warning first to make certain.

Disclaimer: Consult the laws of your own state for regulations governing the adulteration or misbranding of products containing lima beans.