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Three tuna packers to pay $3.3 million to settle claim they underfilled cans

SAN DIEGO -- Three major tuna packers have agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle a claim that they underfilled their canned products, thereby violating federal packing standards.

Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and Starkist entered into the settlement without any admission of wrongdoing, and the prosecutors in the case acknowledge that the companies and their counsel worked cooperatively with the prosecutors’ offices to resolve this matter promptly. The case was handled for San Diego by Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas.

The stipulated final judgment was filed in Riverside Superior Court, and was signed on Aug. 2 by Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office together with Marin County and Riverside County District Attorney’s Offices opened this case based on a 2010 investigation by the California Department of Food and Agriculture into the amount of tuna in cans.

Tuna is often packed in water, oil and vegetable broth, and the amount of tuna relative to additional ingredients is controlled by a federal “standard of fill.” The investigation found the big three companies failed to meet the required amount of tuna in cans packed with vegetable broth and added flavors.

“Our Consumer Unit is focused on making sure San Diego consumers get what they pay for,” said Bonnie M. Dumanis, San Diego County District Attorney. “Labels help consumers make selections, in this case our offices worked together to make sure that what is on the label is what’s actually in the can.”

Bumble Bee Foods and Chicken of the Sea are San Diego-based businesses; StarKist Co. is headquartered in Pittsburgh. All three companies distribute canned tuna throughout California under their company labels.

Because it would not be feasible to identify those consumers who purchased under filled cans, part of the settlement orders the three companies to provide $300,000 in canned tuna within 120 days of the judgment to be distributed to food banks in California.

The judgment also requires the division of costs and penalties between San Diego, Marin and Riverside, with each office receiving $969,500, and the payment of investigative costs of $86,000 to the CDFA Division of Measurement Standards, which played a leading role in the investigation.