Saturday, August 31, 2013

Warning: Spoiled Chobani Greek Yogurt Products, Aug/Sept/Oct 2013

Have you recently bought a Chobani Greek yogurt product that didn't look, taste, or smell quite right? If so, read on.

I bought a box of Chobani Champions Tubes yogurt (Rockin' Blueberry flavor) for our kids on the night of Tuesday, August 27, 2013. It was the last box on the shelf, and I assumed the rest were gone because of a current promotional sale price. (Normally we buy the Chillin' Cherry flavor but there were none on the shelf.) The date on the box says "Sep 24-13" so the yogurt should have lasted 4 weeks from the date I bought it.

One of my kids reported after tasting the yogurt that it "made his tongue hurt." I was skeptical, but last night I saw at the same grocery store (a Vons in Southern California, the same chain as Safeway in other states) that there was supposedly a recall on the Chobani Champions Tubes products (my store carries just the two flavors of tubes that I mentioned above). I didn't check to see whether other Chobani products had been removed from the shelves, but I later found out that Chobani's entire line of yogurt products seems to be affected.

After I got home, I checked the tubes in my refrigerator and found that they all seemed swollen, some moreso than others. I tore open one puffy tube over the sink and it popped open and forcefully ejected a spray of yogurt.

(To be clear, I live right around the corner from the store, and I always put frozen or refrigerated items into my cart last, so it was only a matter of minutes between when the product left the grocer's fridge and entered my fridge. Chobani's Facebook rep says that their yogurt can safely last up to 2 hours outside of the fridge at normal temperatures. The yogurt was in my fridge for less than 3 days before we realized it was spoiled, and by that point it was still almost 4 weeks prior to the use-by date. This was clearly not a case of negligence on the part of a consumer.)

Signs of Spoilage and Symptoms

An odd, spicy or sour taste and expanded or exploding containers are signs of a product that has gone bad and has begun to ferment. Some recent buyers of Chobani products have reported them being bubbly or foamy, or having a fizzy or carbonated taste, or smelling like yeast; these are also signs of fermentation or spoiling.

And obviously, if you get sick to your stomach after eating one (including stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea), that's a strong indication that you ate a spoiled product. More than one parent has reported that their children have felt sick or vomited after eating Chobani yogurt recently.

Conflicting Information About a Recall

I'm not sure whether Chobani has informed stores about the recall, or whether my local grocery store got complaints and contacted Chobani, or whether my grocery store just pulled the affected yogurt from the shelves on its own. All I knew for sure at the time was that someone at my store had hand-written "recall" over the top of the price tags, and the shelf was empty.

It's evident that Chobani has a major nationwide problem based on the number of Facebook comments about the problem as well as comments posted at BabyCenter (I found this link by searching Google for Chobani Champions recall). Clearly it's not just an issue here in Southern California; people all around the country have had similar problems, including but not limited to Arizona, other parts of California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and even Hawaii (which obviously doesn't receive Chobani deliveries by truck from the packaging facility on the mainland). This list is primarily based on people whose posts on Chobani's Facebook page indicated where they were from, and many of them did not include that information.

The first post on BabyCenter about the disappearance of Chobani Champions Tubes from store shelves was written on August 22, 2013, five days before I bought my package, and the commenter said that she/he had been to "3 grocery stores in the past week and they are completely gone."

Presumably, then, I bought my affected package more than a week after some stores had already been aware of the problem and pulled these products from their shelves. Thus it would seem that there wasn't very quick communication from Chobani to every chain or store that carries affected products. (I suppose it's possible that Chobani contacted the chains but some stores didn't get the message from their corporate headquarters for a while.)

Based on several comments on Chobani's Facebook page, it's clear that Chobani Champions Tubes is not the only product with a problem. One commenter mentioned Key Lime 2% (although the official Chobani product page indicates that a key lime flavor, Key Lime Crumble, is only available in the Chobani Flip product line). Another commenter posted a picture of a store label indicating an item recall for a Flip product. Yet another person said it happened with Orange Vanilla flavor, which according to the product page is a Chobani Champions flavor that comes in a cup (as opposed to Champions Tubes). Someone else said they had a problem with the Coffee with Dark Chocolate Chips flavor, which is in the Chobani Bite product line. Essentially all Chobani products seem to be affected.

Worse yet, I couldn't find any information on Chobani's site about a recall, which I find very concerning.

It's clear that Chobani knows about the problem because of all the responses from whoever manages Chobani's Facebook page. However, the Facebook representative wrote yesterday that "we fully stand behind everything we make and assure you we have not issued a recall." (emphasis mine)

It's strange that the Chobani representative stated that there is no product recall. That comment from Chobani was written in reply to a post by someone who said, "My husband works at a convenience store that just had notification that Chobani [yogurt] was to be tossed if the exp date was between 9/11-10/7". Between that and the "recall" signs in my local grocery store, there's conflicing information about whether or not there has actually been a recall. For now, watch out for any expiration dates in September or October 2013.

Other comments from Chobani's Facebook representative claim that the cups in question must have been exposed to a temperature above 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) for an extended period of time.

How to Contact Chobani & File an FDA Consumer Complaint

Chobani is simply directing those who post about these problems on the Chobani Facebook page to contact Chobani via their site. They're not linking to an HTTPS encrypted page, but given that the form may contain private information such as your address and phone number, you should fill out the HTTPS version of the form:

You can alternatively e-mail Chobani at [email protected] or call 1-877-847-6181.

Notably, that phone number was removed from their contact page sometime after Google cached it on August 23. The company also removed their General & Customer Sevices Inquiries e-mail address, [email protected], and their Blogger Inquiries address, [email protected], leaving only their Media Inquiries and Marketing/Advertising Inquiries e-mail addresses on the site. The "care" e-mail address came from Chobani's Facebook representative.

Within hours of e-mailing the company, I received a generic e-mail stating that I would soon receive "replacement product coupons" in the mail so we can "quickly get back to spooning your favorite flavors" (in spite of the fact that I made it clear that we were only interested in Chillin' Cherry Tubes, which are not products that are "spooned").

Given Chobani's unwillingness to publicly acknowledge that there is a widespread, nationwide problem or issue a public recall, it seems that consumers should also contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to report the safety concern about spoiled Chobani products.

The FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators' phone numbers vary by state, so you can look up the appropriate phone number here:

Meanwhile, a Facebook commenter named Nick Conley claims that he founded a startup company that "does 16S DNA bacterial sequencing using Illumina's MiSeq platform" and that he planned to "identify all the species growing in it" by 2 weeks from yesterday. To be notified of the results, one can leave a Facebook comment on Nick Conley's post so Facebook will notify you when someone posts additional comments; presumably Nick will add a comment when the results are in.

Update, September 3, 2013

Chobani posted on its blog around the same time I published this article. When I posted a link to my article on their Facebook wall, the Chobani rep replied claiming, "While we have not issued a recall, we are in the process of replacing product that does not meet our quality standards at retailers across the country."

In other words, there is in fact a recall but Chobani is refusing to call it that.

The Chobani blog confirmed the September 11, 2013 through October 7, 2013 dates that a Facebook commenter had previously mentioned.

On September 3rd at 6 PM, Chobani updated its blog post with the following statement:
Our thorough investigation has identified a type of mold commonly found in the dairy environment. The product in question is less than 5% of our production and is limited to cups produced at our Idaho facility, which accounts for only one third of our production capacity.
While I'm glad that Chobani has publicly stated that mold is the culprit, it would be nice if Chobani would disclose what kind of mold so consumers can research it further on their own.

I find it very hard to believe that only 5% of Chobani's production is affected, especially given the huge volume of customer complaints on the Chobani Facebook page (with relatively few people claiming to have had no problems whatsoever), the significant percentage of products coming out of the affected Idaho facility (one third of all production), and the widespread geographic distribution of affected products.

Also, the company has once again used a misleading word, "cups," to describe affected products, ignoring the fact that its tubes are also affected. This misinformation is especially disappointing because children are the main target audience for tube yogurt products.

* * *

Up until now I've been updating this article to add new U.S. states whenever a commenter has requested it, but I'll probably slow down on that. See the comments below which may contain additional locations. I may update this article again if Chobani or Nick Conley have anything else interesting to say about the situation.

Also, a note for commenters: comment moderation is enabled, which means your comment won't appear immediately. I manually review and approve comments to prevent spam.

About the Author

Normally I'm not very interested in product recalls and the like, but given that this is a health issue that directly affected my children—and given that Chobani was not informing its customers of the extent of the problem—I felt that this was worth writing about.  I normally write about computer security and Apple news. You can follow me on Twitter, , and other social networks.