A class action suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that the Sacramento-based Farmers’ Rice Cooperative misrepresented the rice it sold to rice brokers, retailers and sushi restaurants.
The suit, filed in July by the owner of Jinju Sushi Inc., alleges that the cooperative packaged inferior and possibly unsanitary rice and sold it as premium grade rice.
The cooperative strongly denied the allegations.
“These claims are absurd. We have been in business since 1944 and sell rice to the most quality-conscious customers in the world,” said Brandon Harder, director of government relations and communications for the cooperative. “Our rice is as safe as it gets.”
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The suit claims the inferior rice sold as premium rice included “flush rice,” which is known in the rice industry as used, broken or recycled rice.
Selling flush rice, the suit alleges, violates food and drug safety regulations because its storage allows it to come into contact with insects and rodents, and exposes it to the presence of black mold.
Most rice producers try to reduce the amount of broken rice in their products. The separated broken grains are then sorted into different rice categories and sold to wholesalers, retailers and pet food producers as “broken rice.”
The suit alleges broken rice was sold as the premium varieties New Crop and Imperial Rose, as well as a medium grade variety called Calrose rice.
Edward Martinez, a plaintiff in the suit who said he is currently working at the cooperative doing pest control, said he approached the California Department of Public Health about the cooperative’s use of the flush rice, but that he did not get a response from them on investigating the issue.
A state health department spokesman said he could not comment on the suit Thursday.
The cooperative, which is grower-owned and includes more than 700 growers, supplies domestic and international food manufacturers, brewers, private retailers, exporters and distributors with quality California rice. Its corporate offices are located in Sacramento, and its rice milling and manufacturing facilities are adjacent to the Port of West Sacramento.
Approximately 60 percent of all rice processed by the cooperative is marketed domestically, with the rest exported to Japan, Turkey and the Middle East.