CJ Foods is a corporation that owns Annie Chun’s, a brand of packaged Asian food products sold worldwide. The packaging on Annie Chun’s Soup Bowls, Asian Noodle Bowls, and Ramen House products contain the words “NO MSG ADDED” on the front. The class action alleges that the products contain ingredients that contain MSG and that the “NO MSG ADDED” labeling violates FDA requirements and California state law.
When food products are labeled, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not require that ingredients containing MSG are specified as containing MSG, but it does forbid foods with those ingredients from being labeled “No MSG” or “No added MSG”. MSG also cannot be indicated on labels as “spices” or “flavoring”.
MSG stands for monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer. It is controversial because it is reported to cause headaches, sweating, numbness, tingling or burning, rapid, fluttering heartbeats, chest pains, nausea, and weakness. It enhances the flavor of foods by making processed meats and frozen dinners taste fresher and smell better and canned food products seem less tinny. MSG itself has very little flavor, but because it has the savory taste called “umami” (one of the five basic tastes, along with bitter, salty, sour, and sweet), it tricks people into believing that food tastes better and has more protein.
The FDA has received reports of headaches and nausea supposedly caused by MSG. Medical literature reports adverse effects from eating MSG regularly, including headaches, fatigue and disorientation, depression, chest pain or difficulty breathing, nausea and rapid heartbeats, and drowsiness and weakness.
Many consumers feel that chemicals in food are the number one food safety issue, and roughly half of consumers deliberately avoid MSG. The complaint alleges that food manufacturers know this, but, rather than remove MSG from their foods, they try to hide its presence.
The main ingredient in MSG is glutamic acid, an amino acid contained in more than forty ingredients that consumers generally do not associate with MSG, such as calcium caseinate, gelatin, and hydrolyzed protein. In addition, other ingredients—such as natural beef, pork, or chicken flavoring, powdered milk, and soy sauce—either contain MSG or create it during processing.
The FDA does not require that foods be labeled as containing MSG if the MSG or glutamic acid is naturally present or formed during processing. However, such foods cannot be labeled “No MSG” or “No added MSG”.
The class action therefore alleges violations of California law in areas such as unfair competition, false advertising, and express warranty.