False advertisements are a legal gray area. After all, the entire objective of advertising is to make a product or service appear to be as enticing as possible. This essentially translates into highlighting the good aspects of a product and concealing any negative qualities it may have. Generally, this practice is widely accepted in the food industry.
But when does misleading advertising go too far? Do you need legal help from a consumer protection attorney to recover damages caused by false advertisements? Here’s what you should know and who to call after a misleading ad causes you or a loved one harm.
Why Misleading Advertising Is Rampant in the Food Industry
The food and foodservice industries are a prime example of misleading or false advertising. Although nearly every industry has the potential for misleading ads, there are some that perpetuate false advertisement more than others. The food industry is one such niche.
The saying that people “eat with their eyes,” is true in a sense. The phrase refers to the drive that humans have to eat things that look appetizing and to choose food products that look the best compared to others, even if the latter food products are superior in nutritional value.
This makes competition stiff and puts pressure on food product manufacturers and distributors to create ads with zero flaws or imperfections. As a result, food becomes airbrushed, both figuratively and sometimes even literally speaking.
Examples of False Advertisement for Food Products
Misleading advertising takes place every day in the food industry. In fact, you could probably turn on your television right now or visit just one of your social media channels and come across a misleading or false advertisement in just a minute or two.
Here are some of the most common examples of false advertisements in the food industry:
- Prop photographs. Most photographs of food products that are featured in television ads, magazines, and online aren’t actually of the product itself. Frequently, manufacturers and distributors will use entirely inedible ingredients, with or without real food, to make the ads look as appetizing as possible. For example, it’s common to use motor oil in place of pancake syrup to keep it from soaking into the pancakes or dyed mashed potatoes in place of ice cream. Not only does the scoop of potatoes look like picture-perfect ice cream, but it also doesn’t melt, making it easier to take photos and videos.
- Added dyes or colored packaging. Butchers may add red dye to meat to make it look fresher, or orchards may package Granny Smith apples in green netting to make them look more colorful. Apples are generally waxed to make them appear shiny and to hide bruising and discoloration, while poorer quality cuts of meat may be hidden behind larger, higher quality cuts in family packs.
- Misleading serving sizes. Another common way manufacturers mislead consumers on their product packaging is by giving the appearance that there is more or less product in the package than the recommended serving size. For example, a bottle of soda is marketed as though it can be consumed in a single sitting. However, the entire bottle may be two or three servings, leading to overconsumption.
- Missing ingredients. Nutrition labels must have all ingredients in the product listed in clear, easy-to-read text. Furthermore, ingredients should be listed in order from the ingredient that the item has the most of to the ingredient that the item has the least of. Manufacturers may not use incorrect or confusing verbiage to describe ingredients.
- Inadequate allergen labels. Food product manufacturers are required to list allergens on their product labels, and they must meet certain criteria if they claim the product is gluten free, dairy free, peanut free, or free of another major allergen. If a manufacturer fails to do this, they could be held accountable for their negligence and any damages to consumers it caused.
The above are just some of the ways that the food industry engages in misleading advertising on a regular basis. However, this doesn’t mean that every distributor or manufacturer can be sued. You must be able to show that the responsible party owed a duty of care, was negligent, and their carelessness directly caused you to suffer tangible damages.
Consequences of False Food Advertising
While food advertising might not seem like it bears a lot of weight in the life of a consumer, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The consequences of false food advertising can be harsh and difficult to live with. In some cases, it may cost the life of the consumer, affecting their loved ones for years to come.
One of the most serious impacts of false advertising in the food industry is failure to adequately warn consumers of potential exposure to major allergens. Many food allergies can be life threatening, such as an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts.
Exposure to these foods, even in minute quantities, can cause a reaction known as anaphylactic shock. When a person has this reaction, their throat can start to swell and close, making it difficult to breathe. Without administering lifesaving medication in time, which many but not all consumer who are allergic carry on their person, they will most likely die.
When to Involve a Consumer Protection Attorney
Were you or someone in your family subjected to false advertisements? Did you suffer real, tangible damages as a result? You may be able to file an insurance claim or lawsuit against the food product manufacturer, distributer, or seller. The experienced consumer protection attorneys at Mazow | McCullough, PC can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation by calling (978) 744-8000 or reach out toll free at (855) 693-9084.