Coffee sellers in the State of California will now be required to provide cancer warnings on their coffee products. On March 28, 2018, a California State Court issued a Statement of Decision in a Proposition 65 (Prop 65) case that found that Starbucks and other retailers failed to prove that a chemical found in coffee poses no significant harm. Council for Education and Research on Toxics v. Starbucks Corporation, No. BC435759 (L.A. Super. Ct. Mar. 28, 2018).

Under California’s Prop 65, cancer warnings are required to appear on a wide range of products. In 2010, a nonprofit sued over 90 coffee sellers alleging that the companies failed to warn consumers regarding the presence of acrylamide in their coffee in violation of Prop 65. Acrylamide is listed as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity and, consequently, products containing it are required to carry a warning. The chemical is created in certain plant-based foods during cooking, baking, frying, or roasting at high temperatures. Because acrylamide is also created during the cooking process for other foods, including potato chips, bread, french fries and roasted nuts, many of these products are arguably required to carry cancer warnings in California.

The court in the Starbucks case still has to rule on penalties the coffee sellers could face, but the decision exposes the defendants to significant fines: civil penalties of up to $2,500 per person exposed each day over eight years.

Contact us if you need help determining whether your products – coffee or otherwise – are covered by Prop 65, if you want assistance designing a Prop 65-compliant warning label for your products, or if you need legal counsel to address a Prop 65 60-day notice you’ve received.