Lawsuits involving poppy seeds are mounting across the country
In recent years there has been an upward trend of poppy seed tea sales across the US. Now suppliers are coming under fire for illnesses potentially related to the ingestion of unwashed poppy seeds seek. Class action suits are forming to hold suppliers responsible for injuries and even deaths. According to the lawsuits, tea brewed with unwashed poppy seeds, which is touted to have medicinal value, can instead lead to morphine and codeine overdoses.
In fact, it has been alleged that some sellers continue to aggressively market these products, including by providing recipes on how to make poppy seed tea for pain and/or anxiety relief, despite reports from all over the world of people having serious side effects, illness and even dying from these drinks.
Washed and processed poppy seeds are used in foods to make pastries, cakes, porridge, and glaze. Unwashed poppy seeds are widely available online. Some users boil the seeds to produce a tea, which is consumed for the purposes of perceived “natural” pain relief. The claimed health benefits include the alleviation of pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Product liability lawsuits involving injury and death stemming from the consumption of poppy seed products have grown in recent years. In 2020, Amazon and other defendants settled a lawsuit over the death of Stephen Hacala Jr., a 24-year old Arkansas man who died of morphine intoxication, allegedly after consuming poppy seed tea, according to Bloomberg.
As reported by Law.com, several additional lawsuits are pending in New Jersey. A lawsuit recently transferred from Utah to the New Jersey U.S. District Court alleges that 44-year-old Addie Kofford died with unwashed poppy seeds at the scene. An autopsy revealed that she died of morphine and codeine intoxication. The suit alleges claims of breach of warranty, negligence, and strict liability for the sale of a defective product.
The defendants in the Kofford suit include two New Jersey companies, JJ Nuts of Pompton Plains and Sincerely Nuts of Middlesex, as well as Unicorn Ingredients of Surrey, England and Brachel Marketing, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The suit also alleges that the Brachel, which does business as Lone Goose Bakery, fraudulently transferred assets after learning of the suits brought by Kofford and another person.
At least two other lawsuits are pending in federal and state court in New Jersey. In one suit, plaintiff Rebecca Lancia alleges that she suffered multiple strokes after consuming poppy seed tea. The complaint names Amazon.com as one of several defendants.
Key Takeaway for Food Companies
As the influx of poppy seed lawsuits highlights, it is imperative that companies verify where your products are coming from and whether they meet your quality and safety requirements. As COVID-19 continues to pose supply chain challenges and disrupt normal operations, companies must be even more diligent.
Poppy seeds used for baking are washed and are considered safe, said Jory Lange Jr., a Houston lawyer representing plaintiffs in New Jersey cases. But unwashed poppy seeds may be contaminated with opiates from latex in poppy seed pods that break open while being harvested, he told Law.com.
“Misinformation about medical issues is rife right now in our country,” Lange told Law.com. “I’m very concerned because people are still selling these. This really is a risk out there, and I think most of the people consuming these unwashed poppy seeds have no idea how dangerous they are.”
One lawsuit, transferred to federal court in Newark, New Jersey, from Utah, said 44-year-old Addie Kofford of Heber City, Utah, was found dead with unwashed poppy seeds at the scene. An autopsy found that she died of morphine and codeine intoxication.
At least two other lawsuits are pending in federal and state court in New Jersey.
Kofford’s suit, amended Sept. 7, alleges breach of warranty, negligence and strict liability for sale of a defective product. The suit also alleges that the defendants fraudulently transferred assets after learning of the death of Kofford and another person.
Defendants include Amazon; Brachel Marketing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which does business as the Lone Goose Bakery; New Jersey companies JJ Nuts in Pompton Plains and Sincerely Nuts in Middlesex; and Surrey, England, company Unicorn Ingredients.