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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Dagoba Chocolate recall: Corporate mindscrew in progress

I got an e-mail message this evening from someone at Dagoba Organic Chocolate, following up on my inquiry regarding the lead recall on its chocolate bars.

It's corporate irresponsibility at its worst. Here's the whole exchange, unedited:

Thanks for the letter and your enjoyment of Eclipse. It is my personal favorite You can find details of our testing methods in the FAQ on our website. We require a certificate of analysis for every cacao shipment and accept only clean shipments. We are testing the shipment on our end as well.

Regarding health effects, please not this item from our web FAQ

Q: Should I be concerned if I just ate one bar or a few bars over a few weeks?

A: The press release we developed in cooperation with the FDA specifically
references consumption over a "routine basis (daily for a period of several
weeks)" and "sustained consumption of products", with special reference to "a
child or fetus". Please bear these in mind and assess your situation
accordingly. If you ate just a few bars over a few months, you are well under
the routine/sustained consumption.

Know that we take all customer concerns seriously, and encourage you to
see your
family physician if you experience symptoms, and follow up with us as needed
immediately. Our insurance agent is available to open claims as needed. You
can find a list of symptoms at

Regarding the tests, product that has been open could have been
contaminated by
other sources so it a test would not give you an accurate reading. When we
send samples for testing, we have to package them right off the line and seal
the bags.

Thanks again and please stay in touch,

Melissa Schweisguth
Changemaker/Marketing & Communications

Quoting Jack Bogdanski:

> To Dagoba Organic Chocolate:
> I am a customer who has consumed multiple Eclipse 87% bars, including
> about half of a 2-ounce bar that was from one of the lots involved in
> the lead recall (see attached photo of unconsumed portion).
> I would like to know the detailed results and methodologies of all
> the tests conducted in connection with this incident, both before and
> after the recall was issued. Is this information available to
> consumers who know that they ate the recalled products?
> Will Dagoba reimburse me for the cost of my having my unconsumed
> partial bar independently tested for lead?
> Will Dagoba reimburse me for the cost of my undergoing independent
> medical testing for lead poisoning?
> Please forward detailed responses to these three question to me at
> this e-mail address. Given the seriousness of this matter, a prompt
> reply is requested.
> Thank you.
> John A. Bogdanski
> Portland, Oregon

This is worse than your worst nightmare of a response that you would have gotten from General Foods. Weaselly.

(Complete Dagoba Recall archives here.)

Comments (38)

You think you've got problems, I just found out my favorite brand of lead that I like to eat is contaminated with Chocalate. Someones going to pay.

No, seriously, they're behaving like scum. "Go to your doctor only if you have symptoms" -- lead poisoning doesn't always have noticeable symptoms. And "once it leaves the box we ship it in, the chocolate could be contaminated from anywhere, so don't try to prove anything."

They deserve what they get now.

Hershey Bars are on sale: 3 for a buck at Dead Freds.

Plus: deep pockets if you ever need to file a class action!

You have to wonder about the person who wrote that e-mail. (Like... how much leaded chocolate did she eat?)

This is getting more and more disturbing. What are they thinking?!?

From what I've read, the primary way to treat lead poisoning is stopping the exposure. Only in extreme cases is something more radical done. Otherwise, you can increase your iron and calcium intake to counter any effects that the lead in your blood might have.

If you don't have any symptoms and you've stopped your exposure, what exactly are you worried about?

If I were them, I would have read your email as someone looking for an excuse to sue even if you weren't damaged.

If you're truly worried about it, go get a blood test. They've told you that if there are problems, they are ready for their insurance to help you. Then they pointed you to the CDC's information so they don't try to give expertise where they have none. (I'm a chocolatier, Jim, not a doctor!)

If you don't have any symptoms and you've stopped your exposure, what exactly are you worried about?

Thanks for your medical advice, but I neither need it nor want it. They're hiding relevant information that they have, and they haven't offered to "help" me with anything. So far all they have done is sell me and many thousands of other people tainted food, and let us know about it after it was too late for many of us to avoid eating it.

If you're truly worried about it, go get a blood test.

As soon as they agree to pay for it, I plan to.

Melissa Schweisguth
Changemaker/Marketing & Communications

I'm sorry...but "changemaker" as a job title?

Reminds me of when I drove a Good Humor ice cream van, and wore one of those cool change dispensers on my belt.

To be honest, I care less about "organic" then about the fact that they were local. I really try to buy local...but I don't buy BS.

Does anyone know where the lead came from. Or is it natural?


is it natural?

It ain't supernatural. But, more to the point, it isn't listed as an ingredient.

She's not being deliberately weasely here; she's totally in over her head, is all. The CEO is offsite and it's a small company; I'm betting there will be clearer, more specific answers once he's back.

Hardly any consolation, I know - but this Melissa sounds like a fluffy little bunny; I wouldn't take her words right now as representative of the entire company.

"As soon as they agree to pay for it, I plan to."

Umm. Jack, I understand you're worried, and that's reasonable. But I think your "lawyerly" reaction here is currently counterproductive to guarding your health.

If you're worried, go get tested. The worry and care over the unknown is probably hurting you more than any lead exposure. After you know the results, send 'em the bill if you like. (If they're going to pay for your testing, it's going to be a reimbursement anyway, so you can argue about who pays later.)

As for the cross-contamination issue, they have a point. Once that bar leaves the factory, it's out of their control. Testing an open half-eaten bar that's been stored in a house old enough to have lead paint isn't going to tell them anything reliable about their problems. Testing that bar might tell you about your problems... but not much. If you ate half a two-ounce bar, and it's contaminated at very high levels, that's still a lot less exposure than being shot by Dick Cheney.

Anyway, it's better to test your blood lead levels first. If the blood levels are low enough to not be of concern, then you don't need to test the bar... it's not like you're planning to finish it, right?

Only if your blood test comes out in a dangerous range will the lead content in that bar matter at all, and then it'll only matter if you're planning to take action against them. At that point, you'll have to test your whole environment to prove anything... and good luck demonstrating that your exposure is not coming mostly from your home's paint or pipes.

Please, take this as advice from a friend. (Or a benevolent aquaintance, anyway.) Guard your health first, and deal with responsibility for the problem later.

"I unbutton my pants and belt and let them drop to the floor and quickly take off any remaining clothes. There completely exposed in front of you is my naked brown chocolate body."

Now that is some leaded prose from Portlands own 'Foxy Brown'. Talk about your contaminated chocolate. May we all live in hilarious times.

I know people on this blog tend to be contrarian, but the "Don't worry, be happy" responses are a bit over the top. A local company has unwittingly added lead to the diets of its customers. Dagoba has a MORAL responsibility to release the information on how much lead we're talking about. After all, if it's just a wee bit over the FDA guidelines, that's a much different story than if it's two or three times the acceptable amount.

The fact that they are refusing to release the information either means it's really bad, or they are totally inept at public relations. Jack is right -- this is wrong, wrong wrong.


How much of a settlement are you trolling for?

Hershey's?? Pahleese. I'd rather eat lead-laden 'real' chocolate and die a slow death. Unless you count gritty sugar-wax as the real thing... it's like growing up on Sanka or Foldgers and then graduating to something that actually resembles coffee. Night and frickin' Day.

Also, I wonder how many foods, activities and routine exposures add lead to our systems. I'm willing to bet a lot flies under the radar until it is caught by random testing. Even the slow accumulation of every minor source may trump a candy bar that registers just above the threshold of 'legal' lead content. Of course, one would need to know just how far beyond acceptable it is, and it doesn't sound like Dagoba is giving hints.

The letter you got in response is exactly what I would expect to come from them. The woman has a point on pretty much everything she wrote, especially the point about testing opened bars. Once those bars go out the door, they are of no testing use whatsoever.
Let's say you were an unscrupulous consumer, what would you do? Open the bar, dust some lead on there, have it tested, and scream bloody murder. Their approach (likely mandated by whoever's in charge of food testing) makes perfect sense in the face of that possibility.
Also, your letter to them says "lawyer" all over it. I've never met a normal person who writes like that, so I'm guessing you got her guard up as soon as you sent it.
Your wisest course of action, if you're really worried about your lead exposure: get tested and send them the bill. If they won't pay it, bring them to small claims court.

I want to know the truth. I don't need their money. They will be bankrupt soon, anyway. Rightly so, from the way they're behaving here.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if they're willing to divulge the levels... in a few weeks, after they figure out WTF happened.

But today, what's the point? Releasing the data now might (or might not) be good PR, but a further delay doesn't have any health or safety consequences. Now that the product has been recalled, the only tests that matter are blood tests.


Let us know the results of the tests on you and your candy bar. If you are really as worried about being poisoned as you claim, why wait?

I couldn't help but notice in yesterday's New Seasons flyer that Dagoba bars are on sale for $1.99 each!

Hmmm... Given the situation that the producer is in, I'd bet that the responses are crafted by....wait for it....their attorney(s).*rimshot*

That's probably why is sounds so "weaselly".

Releasing a range of tested chocolate says nothing about what your bar might have. Lead is primarily a cumulative problem, too. So giving a range could have the effect of both making someone wrongly feel safe as well as wrongly feel unsafe. Stopping the exposure and watching for symptoms are the most important actions. If worried, then a blood test.

I do disagree with those who say that testing your bar is meaningless. You'd have to be pretty skilled to mix in lead so that washing the bar didn't get rid of the taint and then re-temper and set the bar so that it looked the same.

Jack - I think it's a conspiracy... Opie and Stadum and Homer have joined forces to sprinkle lead dust on your chocolate. Why? To knock the tram off your radar, of course. Diabolical. They're going to go after Steve Schopp next. If I were you I'd start taking a different route home each evening.

Tom - your "tainted chocolate" post was genius.


You are the lawyer and I am the mere student (and not a good one at that), so perhaps you can answer this one for us:

If you were to go get a medical test and, be it positive or negative, you were to present Dagoba with the bill, could they be forced to pay?

And if so, could you get a judge to issue that order without spending more of your time and money than the cost of the tests?


While you are seeking the truth, it might be wise to check for lead paint in your home and in your water, based upon your neighborhood.

I'd bet that the responses are crafted by....wait for it....their attorney(s).*rimshot*

Actually, the amateurishness of their responses is a pretty good indication that they haven't hired an attorney, at least as of yesterday.


Again, the comments on your blog are even more funny than the post! Tom lampooooons (sorry) Chief Foxy, and you get schooled by one of your students!! Really, go get you blood tested. You will sleep better at night, and probably write better in the morning.

William J.

I think the point people are missing here is that Dagoba seems to be more concerned about themselves than they are about the people who are consumers of their products.

I mean look, the fact that they are an organic food company that purchases fair trade cocoa indicates to consumers that they care about people and the environment. At least we assume that. If Dagoba put as much care into communicating with concerned, scared and worried customers as they have in making sure that they put an organic fair trade chocolate bar on the market, then some of us might feel differently about the company at this point.

As a fellow vendor in the natural foods business I was willing to give them a chance at first, but in the last two days I've changed my mind. I've spoken with several other owners in the industry and we're all following this story closely. We feel that Dagoba is blowing it right now on the consumer end of things. They may not be losing thier distribution network, but their losing the end consumers.

Thanks for the letter and your enjoyment of Eclipse. It is my personal favorite

That is one of the most idiotic things anyone has ever said to me.

They're not losing this customer. (Assuming the lone store in Salem that carries it keeps it stocked.) It's local, it's fair trade, it's organic, it's got unique products, and (except for this problem) it's been very high quality.

Their response to this may not be uniformly excellent, but it's not bad. They have done what is necessary to protect the health and safety of their customers by recalling the product. They are stopping short of giving medical advice, and referring customers to their physicians.

The only problem here is that they have not yet disclosed the test levels. But those levels in the chocolate are not medically relevant. Everyone has different absorbtion rates of and previous lifetime exposures to lead. The only thing that will tell you if you have a dangerous accumulation of lead is a blood test. At this point, the lead levels in the chocolate only mattter to... well, to lawyers.

It's only 7 days after the recall. I'm willing to assume good faith and give them a few weeks to get their feet back under them. If they haven't answered the lead level question by May, that'll be annoying.

In the meantime, I'm going to hit some Dagoba clearance sales. :-)


See your doctor. Take the "evidence". Ask his advice; follow it. I'd suspect a quick test could determine your status. Have your doctor bill you, send the bill to Dagoba.

You may be right. They may not have an attorney, yet. If so, they're fools, given the situation. That being the case, I would think the sharks are circling. Get in while there's still a pot o'cash.

Act now; offer limited.

Bad English scares me too. It's unpatriotic. Can you request damages include she consume a Chicago Manual of Style? Hardback, 3.2 pounds.

I work for the comapny that makes the "World's Best Chocolate" (CNN/Money) - Dagoba Organic Chocolate. Try it and you'll never go back.

She's right about that.

Maybe the problem with Eclipse will be eclipsed:

"Cancer-causing benzene has been found in soft drinks at levels above the limit considered safe for drinking water, the Food and Drug Administration acknowledged Wednesday."

OK, just to set the record a tad straighter- lead to some extent is found in dark chocolate. Scientists honestly still don't know where the lead comes from. At first there were the theories that the cocoa bean was being cultivated in lead contaminated soil in third world countries where old appliances were just handing around leeching...but I don't think that was proevn. However, to note, it has been scientifically proven that the shells somehow soak up some of the lead but not all of it, so a bit naturally get into the bean anyways. Scientists are studying the sheel/husk to learn more about their magical soak-up-lead properties.

Does the recall include the Hunka-Hunka Chief of Police Bar?

If Dagoba put as much care into communicating with concerned, scared and worried customers...

Isn't that what fluffy little marketing bunnies are for? Miss Changemaker's not even very good at what she was hired to do...

Cut some slack Jack. This is not a huge heartless, soulless corporation you're talking about. I'm sure that the issue of having widely distributed a contaminated food to the general public has come as a huge surprise to them too. And perhaps also a huge crisis. They do have a responsability first to their consumers and then to their employees and their families. I, for one, want to see them get through this crisis in a responsable way settling all legitimate claims openly and then get back to the business of making fine chocolates. GO DAGOBA!


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