Why Are Poppy Seeds Leading to Lawsuits?

Why Are Poppy Seeds Leading to Lawsuits?

Lawsuits involving poppy seeds are mounting around the country, as plaintiffs who have ingested unwashed poppy seeds seek to hold suppliers responsible for injuries and even deaths...

Lawsuits involving poppy seeds are mounting around the country, as plaintiffs who have ingested unwashed poppy seeds seek to hold suppliers responsible for injuries and even deaths. According to the lawsuits, tea brewed with unwashed poppy seeds, which is touted to have medicinal value, can instead lead to morphine and codeine overdoses.

Product Liability Lawsuits Involving Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds themselves possess no opium content. Rather, the opium alkaloids are found in the poppy latex, which is a milky white fluid released from the pod when it is harvested. Depending on the methods of harvesting and geographical origin of the plant, unwashed poppy seeds may have higher amounts of opium alkaloids, such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine, on their seed coats when compared to washed poppy seeds.

Washed and processed poppy seeds are used in foods to make pastries, cakes, porridge, and glaze. Unwashed poppy seeds are widely available online. Some users boil the seeds to produce a tea, which is consumed for the purposes of perceived “natural” pain relief. The claimed health benefits include the alleviation of pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Product liability lawsuits involving injury and death stemming from the consumption of poppy seed products have grown in recent years. In 2020, Amazon and other defendants settled a lawsuit over the death of Stephen Hacala Jr., a 24-year old Arkansas man who died of morphine intoxication, allegedly after consuming poppy seed tea, according to Bloomberg. 

As reported by Law.com, several additional lawsuits are pending in New Jersey. A lawsuit recently transferred from Utah to the New Jersey U.S. District Court alleges that 44-year-old Addie Kofford died with unwashed poppy seeds at the scene. An autopsy revealed that she died of morphine and codeine intoxication. The suit alleges claims of breach of warranty, negligence, and strict liability for the sale of a defective product.

The defendants in the Kofford suit include two New Jersey companies, JJ Nuts of Pompton Plains and Sincerely Nuts of Middlesex, as well as Unicorn Ingredients of Surrey, England and Brachel Marketing, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The suit also alleges that the Brachel, which does business as Lone Goose Bakery, fraudulently transferred assets after learning of the suits brought by Kofford and another person.

At least two other lawsuits are pending in federal and state court in New Jersey. In one suit, plaintiff Rebecca Lancia alleges that she suffered multiple strokes after consuming poppy seed tea. The complaint names Amazon.com as one of several defendants.

Key Takeaway for Food Companies

As the influx of poppy seed lawsuits highlights, it is imperative that companies verify where your products are coming from and whether they meet your quality and safety requirements. As COVID-19 continues to pose supply chain challenges and disrupt normal operations, companies must be even more diligent.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Pat McNamara, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.


  • Share:

AboutPatrick J. McNamara

Patrick J. McNamara has extensive experience in environmental, redevelopment and land use law and related litigation. His activities include the representation of developers and public entities in preparation of and presentations before land use boards, redevelopment agencies, as well as county, regional and state agencies.Full Biography

Get In Touch

* The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.

Share this article


Get the latest from our attorneys!

Please fill out our short form to get the latest articles from the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorneys weekly on the cutting-edge legal topics.

Why Are Poppy Seeds Leading to Lawsuits?

Why Are Poppy Seeds Leading to Lawsuits?
Author: Patrick J. McNamara

Lawsuits involving poppy seeds are mounting around the country, as plaintiffs who have ingested unwashed poppy seeds seek to hold suppliers responsible for injuries and even deaths. According to the lawsuits, tea brewed with unwashed poppy seeds, which is touted to have medicinal value, can instead lead to morphine and codeine overdoses.

Product Liability Lawsuits Involving Poppy Seeds

Poppy seeds themselves possess no opium content. Rather, the opium alkaloids are found in the poppy latex, which is a milky white fluid released from the pod when it is harvested. Depending on the methods of harvesting and geographical origin of the plant, unwashed poppy seeds may have higher amounts of opium alkaloids, such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine, on their seed coats when compared to washed poppy seeds.

Washed and processed poppy seeds are used in foods to make pastries, cakes, porridge, and glaze. Unwashed poppy seeds are widely available online. Some users boil the seeds to produce a tea, which is consumed for the purposes of perceived “natural” pain relief. The claimed health benefits include the alleviation of pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Product liability lawsuits involving injury and death stemming from the consumption of poppy seed products have grown in recent years. In 2020, Amazon and other defendants settled a lawsuit over the death of Stephen Hacala Jr., a 24-year old Arkansas man who died of morphine intoxication, allegedly after consuming poppy seed tea, according to Bloomberg. 

As reported by Law.com, several additional lawsuits are pending in New Jersey. A lawsuit recently transferred from Utah to the New Jersey U.S. District Court alleges that 44-year-old Addie Kofford died with unwashed poppy seeds at the scene. An autopsy revealed that she died of morphine and codeine intoxication. The suit alleges claims of breach of warranty, negligence, and strict liability for the sale of a defective product.

The defendants in the Kofford suit include two New Jersey companies, JJ Nuts of Pompton Plains and Sincerely Nuts of Middlesex, as well as Unicorn Ingredients of Surrey, England and Brachel Marketing, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The suit also alleges that the Brachel, which does business as Lone Goose Bakery, fraudulently transferred assets after learning of the suits brought by Kofford and another person.

At least two other lawsuits are pending in federal and state court in New Jersey. In one suit, plaintiff Rebecca Lancia alleges that she suffered multiple strokes after consuming poppy seed tea. The complaint names Amazon.com as one of several defendants.

Key Takeaway for Food Companies

As the influx of poppy seed lawsuits highlights, it is imperative that companies verify where your products are coming from and whether they meet your quality and safety requirements. As COVID-19 continues to pose supply chain challenges and disrupt normal operations, companies must be even more diligent.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Pat McNamara, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.