FTC Consumer Alert Offers Food for "Thaw-T" About Kitchen Gadgets
Premier Products, Inc., marketers of the "Miracle Thaw" food thawing tray -- an aluminum tray advertised for its ability to thaw food quickly -- and Comtrad Industries, Inc., a marketer of the "Koolatron" thermo-electric cooler -- a portable electronic food cooler that doubles as a food warmer -- have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges concerning false and unsubstantiated safety and effectiveness claims for their products.
Also today, the Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Food and Drug Administration, issued a Consumer Alert advising consumers to be cautious when using food thawing trays or thermo- electric coolers. According to the federal agencies, caution is advised because using these products carries the risk of buildup of harmful bacteria on perishable food, which in turn may cause food-borne illness.
In separate complaints against the companies, the FTC alleged the following:
Florham Park, New Jersey-based respondents Premier Products, Inc., T.V. Products, Inc., and T.V.P. Corporation, and company officers Michael Sander and Issie Kroll, disseminated television advertisements and promotional materials for Miracle Thaw that contained the following allegedly false and unsubstantiated claims:
All day thawing could cause bacteria burgers. But with Miracle Thaw, burgers are safely defrosted in just 10 minutes. . . . No Dangerous Bacteria. . . . Most important, it’s lab tested for product and food safety.
In fact, according to the complaint, Miracle Thaw operates at room temperature, and thawing perishable food at room temperature involves some risk of harmful bacteria buildup on the food. In addition, at the time respondents made these representations, no food safety tests had been conducted on Miracle Thaw.
The secret is in the superconductive metal tray. It absorbs the natural heat energy in the air and then releases it directly into the frozen food.
In fact, according to the complaint, Miracle Thaw is a simple Teflon-coated aluminum tray that can only achieve the accelerated thawing depicted in advertisements if it is preheated before use and reheated during use. Most heat transferred into frozen food comes from the heated tray and not from the air. Similar results could be achieved with any aluminum pan. Further, thawing times claimed in advertisements often will not be achieved, and in many cases actual thawing times may be three or more times longer than the claimed thawing times.
The complaint further alleges that respondents deceptively failed to disclose that thawing perishable food on Miracle Thaw may pose a risk of buildup of harmful bacteria on the food.
The proposed settlement to these charges, announced today for a public comment period before the Commission decides to make it final and binding, would prohibit respondents, with respect to any product involving the storage or preparation of food, from misrepresenting:
- the risk of buildup of harmful or unsafe levels of bacteria on food items defrosted, thawed, prepared, or stored using such product;
- the amount of time it may take to defrost, thaw, or prepare food items using such product;
- the process by which such product achieves any claimed defrosting, thawing, or preparation times; or
- the existence, contents, validity, results, conclusions or interpretations of any test, study, or research.
In addition, respondents, in connection with any product for use in the preparation or storage of food, would be prohibited from making any claims about safety or efficacy, unless, at the time the claim is made, they have competent and reliable evidence that substantiates the claim. Further, respondents would be prohibited from making any claim about the effectiveness or usefulness of Miracle Thaw or any substantially similar product for use in defrosting or thawing of frozen food unless they also make certain disclosures that warn of the potential risk of harmful or unsafe bacteria buildup associated with use of the product.
Midlothian, Virginia-based Comtrad Industries, Inc. disseminated advertisements for the Koolatron by direct mail, through print advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and on the Internet’s World Wide Web, that contained the following allegedly false and unsubstantiated claims:
Imagine the versatility and convenience of a cooler that worked like a refrigerator. You could have ice-cold drinks at softball games, enjoy a picnic without soggy or spoiled food, even store insulin or other medicine that needs to be refrigerated. Now, imagine that this cooler that worked like a refrigerator could also heat food.
In fact, according to the complaint, the Koolatron’s cold storage temperature is highly dependent on outside air or room temperatures, and in many circumstances it will not maintain cold storage temperatures comparable to a home refrigerator. Further, the Koolatron is primarily designed to maintain the cool or warm temperatures of items that were already cool or warm before being placed in the device, and its ability to cool down warm food or heat up cold food is limited. It may take up to twelve hours or more for the Koolatron to cool down a warm item or heat up a cold item.
Just plug it in. Koolatron plugs directly into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter and uses less power than a taillight. If you leave it plugged in while the vehicle is off, it will consume only three amps of power. Unplugged, Koolatron will hold its cooling capacity for up to 24 hours.
In fact, according to the complaint, in most instances, once unplugged from a power source, the Koolatron will not hold its cooling capacity for 24 hours, and operating the Koolatron off a car battery when the car is not running may drain the car battery of all power in as little as three hours.
The FTC’s complaint further alleges that Comtrad deceptively failed to disclose that use of the Koolatron to cool or warm perishable food may, in certain circumstances, pose a risk of buildup of harmful or unsafe bacteria on the food, since in its cooling mode the device may not always hold food at proper refrigeration temperatures, and in its warming mode the device does not reach a high enough holding temperature to kill or prevent the growth of bacteria on food.
The proposed settlement to the charges against Comtrad, announced today for a public comment period before the Commission decides to make it final and binding, would prohibit the company from misrepresenting, in connection with any product involving the storage of food:
- the comparative or absolute ability of such product to refrigerate or cool food items or medicines or to maintain proper cold storage temperatures;
- the comparative or absolute ability of such product to heat or warm food items;
- the comparative or absolute ability of such product to hold its cooling capacity after being unplugged from a power source; or
- the effect of operating such product off a car battery when the car is not running.
In addition, the company, in connection with any product for use in the storage of food, would be prohibited from making any claims about safety or efficacy, unless, at the time the claim is made, it has competent and reliable evidence that substantiates the claim. Further, the company would be prohibited from making any claim about the effectiveness or usefulness of Koolatron or any substantially similar product for use in cooling or warming food unless it also discloses the potential food safety risks associated with use of the product.
A summary of the proposed consent agreements will be published in the Federal Register shortly and will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The Commission vote to accept the two consent agreements for public comment was 5-0.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the complaints, proposed consent agreements and the analyses of the agreement to assist the public in commenting, as well as the consumer alert, are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov or by calling 202-326-3627. FTC documents are also available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC’s NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File Nos.: Premier Products -- 952 3357; Comtrad -- 952 3047)
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