First came word that the drought has reduced the state’s prodigious rice crop 25%. Now the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has confirmed to the Sacramento Bee, without explanation, that it is investigating allegations made in a class-action lawsuit (pdf) that the state’s largest exporter of rice has been selling restaurants and consumers mislabeled lower quality and tainted products.
By tainted, the plaintiffs against Sacramento-based Farmers’ Rice Cooperative (FRC) mean “insects, rodents and their soiling, bird remains, and black mold.”
That nasty rice allegedly made its way to sushi restaurants, retailers and rice brokers when FRC mixed various quality rices and mislabeled the product, perhaps over a four-year period. According to the lawsuit, filed in July in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the 700-member cooperative was taking the worst quality “flush rice” and mixing it in with higher-priced premium and medium quality rice.
Sushi restaurants get the high-quality product. The flush rice is so crummy, food and drug laws allow it to be stored in less than optimal conditions. It is “filthy, putrid, decomposed, or substandard” and is not meant to be consumed by people. But pets eat it up.
The lawsuit alleged that flush sometimes was 85% of the product sold as high-quality “New Variety” rice.
The lead plaintiff is JinJu Sushi, Inc., owner of a Los Angeles restaurant.
FRC spokesman Brandon Harder dismissed the allegations. “These claims are absurd. We have been in business since 1944 and sell rice to the most quality-conscious customers in the world,” Harder told the Bee. “Our rice is as safe as it gets.” Harder was named director of governmental relations and communications for the cooperative the same month the lawsuit was filed.