Sargento cheese ‘no antibiotics’ lawsuit to proceed

In a lawsuit​* filed in December 2020, plaintiff Quynh Phan argued that, “Reasonable consumers, seeing Sargento’s prominent ‘No Antibiotics’ representation, would expect that the products are made without the use of antibiotics​ and, therefore, never contain antibiotics.”​​

Sargento, in turn, said its labels explicitly spell out that ‘No Antibiotics*’ means that ‘*Our cheese is made from milk that does not contain​​ antibiotics.’

Even if consumers did read this “fine print disclaimer​​,” argued the plaintiff, it is false, because independent lab testing conducted in July 2020 revealed that Sargento mild sliced cheddar had “detectable levels (0.985ppb) of the antibiotic sulfamethazine​.​​

Sargento: Lawsuit ‘based on an alleged misrepresentation that does not exist’

In a motion to dismiss the case, however, Sargento said the lawsuit was “based on an alleged misrepresentation that does not exist.”

The meaning of the phrase, ‘Our cheese is made from milk that does not contain antibiotics​’ is crystal clear, it argued, “Yet Plaintiff attempts to base consumer ‘fraud’ claims on an entirely different representation that appears nowhere on any of Sargento’s packaging—i.e., that the cheese is made with milk from cows who were not given​ antibiotics.”

As for the antibiotic sulfamethazine allegedly found in one sample of one Sargento cheese product, said the cheesemaker, the amount was “so small that it represents the equivalent of less than half a teaspoon of water in an Olympic size swimming pool.”

Judge: We don’t know what a reasonable consumer would make of this claim

However, US District Judge for the Northern District of California, Edward Chen, was not persuaded by Sargento’s arguments, writing in a June 2 order that, “There is a factual dispute as to what a reasonable consumer would understand from the label, thus making dismissal​ [at this stage of proceedings] inappropriate​.

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