California-based Trader Joe's is much more than a grocery store to the hundreds of thousands of fanatical shoppers who swear by the company's GMO-free policy, privately labeled foods, and vacation-themed experience.
The company, number nine on Forbes' 15 Best Companies to Work For list, is best-known for value pricing on its items, including its now-famous Two-Buck Chuck, AKA Charles Shaw Wine, produced and bottled by Bronco Wine Co. and sold exclusively at Trader Joe's. Unfortunately, that cheap bottle of wine can be more dangerous than a cheap hangover the next morning.
A class-action lawsuit filed March 19 in California Superior Court claims that many of the country's best-selling inexpensive wines, including Two-Buck Chuck, contain extremely high levels of arsenic. The lawsuit states that "the 28 California defendant wineries produce and market wines that contain dangerously high levels of inorganic arsenic, in some cases up to 500% or more than what is considered the maximum acceptable safe daily intake limit."
Arsenic is a natural element that can be found in rocks and soil, water, air, and plants. It can also be released into the environment from some agricultural and industrial sources including pesticides and herbicides. Arsenic is a known carcinogen and can lead to death when ingested in large amounts.
CBS reports that in independent tests conducted by Denver-based BeverageGrades, more than 1,300 bottles of wine were tested, with nearly a quarter of them containing levels higher than the EPA's maximum allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water, which is 10 parts per billion. According to BeverageGrades' Kevin Hicks, "The lower the price of wine on a per-liter basis, the higher the amount of arsenic."
Wines tested include Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck white zinfandel, which came in at three times the limit. Ménage à Trois Moscato was four times the limit, and Franzia White Grenache had five times the EPA limit for drinking water.
In all, 28 California wines were listed in the lawsuit, with the Associated Press listing all the brands, including popular wines like Charles Shaw white zinfandel; Caupcake malbec; Fisheye pinot grogio; Beringer white merlot, white zinfandel, red moscato, and refreshingly sweet moscato; Korbel sweet rose and extra dry sparkling wine; HRM Rex Goliath moscato; Flipflop pinot grigio, moscato, and cabernet sauvignon; and Seaglass sauvignon blanc.
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In addition, Passover shoppers should note that Mogen David concord and blackberry wines were listed as having high amounts of arsenic. A complete list of wines named can be found here.
When contacted, a spokesperson for Trader Joe's said, "Charles Shaw is a label exclusive to Trader Joe’s. We take these concerns seriously and are investigating the matter with several of our wine-producing suppliers."
Last year, Gothamist reported that Charles Shaw wines may also contain the blood of animals unfortunate enough to be around the vineyards when harvesting machines came to pick grapes by industrial means. A representative for Bronco Wines denied the allegation, saying, "The production process of Charles Shaw wines, known as Two-Buck Chuck, is a completely state-of-the-art, top-rate process with extreme quality control in place every step of the way, from the vineyard to the case of wine."
So far, none of the wine manufacturers has issued a recall, and the class-action lawsuit represents wine drinkers in California. A website, taintedwine.com, has been set up to inform consumers of updates to case.