August 2023 Millar’s JurisDiction - Timed Out

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

I have, by dint of my wife’s passing, become the chief cook and bottle washer. It is a role for which I am demonstrably ill-suited, by both temperament and experience. Until recently, my role in grocery shopping was to push the cart, put the food on the conveyor belt, put it in the trunk of the car, and unpack it at home.

I have learned there’s more to it—you have to know what to buy.

Since my culinary skills are pretty much limited to three-minute eggs, whatever I am buying has to be simple. If it looks complicated and time-consuming, it stays on the shelf. That leads me, by default, to the frozen food section, the redoubt of the single shoppers.

So, I read labels. And pictures. In reverse order. If it looks like it is at least reasonably attractive and marginally edible, I then look at the directions. If it looks like it will take a long time or the word “microwave” is not mentioned, it goes back in the freezer case. Only easy makes it home.

I am also not a fan of class action suits concerning food products. (Yes, I know I changed subjects, but it is not really a digression. I will connect it.)

I have written before on cases such as the claim that Froot Loops do not contain real fruit. (Whether it contains real “froot” is, however, impossible to prove or disprove.)

You can imagine my surprise when I came across a class action by one Amanda Ramirez, who must not have a lot going on in her life, against Kraft Heinz Food Company, filed in, of all places, Federal Court in Miami. It seems that somewhere along the line when I wasn’t looking, Kraft Foods and Heinz merged, and the merged company manufactures Velveeta brand cheese products. (I am not sure that the words “Velveeta” and “cheese” belong in the same sentence, but that’s not the issue.)

It seems that the company sells microwavable single cups of macaroni and cheese under the Velveeta brand. (Since I can’t stand mac and cheese, I never would have gone past the picture stage and made it to the directions, thus missing the opportunity to strike it rich.)

Between paragraph one and paragraph two of her complaint is a large picture of an eight-pack box of “microwavable shell pasta & cheese sauce” in single-serve cups with a circle on the lower left which says, “Ready in 3 ½ minutes.”

As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said: “Ay there’s the rub.”

According to the complaint, “[T]he statement of ‘ready in 3 ½ minutes’ is false and misleading because the Product takes longer that 3-and-a-half minutes to prepare for consumption.”

Now, I am going to have to change my shopping approach. Previously, I have just looked to see how long the sucker is going to take to microwave. I have never before considered how long, for example, it will take me to open the package, even though I know I will have to do that or else I will likely burn the house down.

According to Ms. Ramirez, or possibly her attorneys, there is a four-step process before the mac and cheese gets from box to mouth: (1) you have to remove the lid and sauce pouch; (2) you have to add water and stir; (3) then you microwave for 3 ½ minutes; and (4) finally, you stir in the cheese sauce pouch.

From there, the complaint concludes that “Consumers seeing ‘ready in 3 ½ minutes’ will believe it represents the total time amount of time it takes to prepare the Product, meaning from the moment it is unopened to the moment it is ready for consumption.”

Ms. Ramirez, it states, “believed and expected that the Product would take 3-and-a-half minutes total to prepare and be ready for consumption.”

Ms. Ramirez is, apparently, the only person in the country with less grocery shopping experience than I have. She must have thought she would just put her shopping bag and box in the micro, hit 3 ½ and she could eat it out of the container without taking the time for a place setting or perhaps even a table and chair. (If her fire insurer sees her complaint, her rates may go up.)

The complaint is fifteen pages, 109 numbered paragraphs, and alleges eight counts, including unfair trade practices, false advertising, fraud, breach of warranty, etc. Nowhere does it say how long it took Ms. Ramirez to race the clock, get her food out of the box, and sit down to eat it.

I bet it was less time than I could boil two eggs.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of FSG Lawyers PC in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.