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pitted olives

A self-proclaimed longtime consumer of Mezzetta’s Pitted Greek Kalamata Olives is suing the company after allegedly breaking his tooth on an olive pit last summer.

Mark Halper filed the suit himself in Napa County Superior Court in December, listing a P.O. Box in Telluride, Colorado as his address. G. L. Mezzetta, Inc., a food processing company in American Canyon, responded to the claim earlier this month through their attorney Tina W. Lu of the Law Offices of John A. Biard in Walnut Creek.

According to their response filed in court, the company denies Halper’s allegations and denies that Halper was damaged at all.

Lu told the Register that she did not have a comment on the case.

Halper, though, had a lot to say about what he thinks is a “landmark case.”

“The amount of the claim is relatively low and insignificant, but the case is very significant,” he said Thursday.

In his lawsuit, Halper says that he was eating a dinner salad prepared with the olives on July 13, 2017 when he bit down and, “to his amazement,” the olive contained a full pit. He immediately felt discomfort and checked the right side of his mouth, but due to his porcelain crowns, he wasn’t able to find any damage, according to the suit.

When he went to a dentist, though, he was informed that he had fractured one of his teeth, the suit alleges. The tooth needed to be extracted and Halper would need to get an implant, the first phase of which would cost $2,000, according to the suit.

Halper says he contacted G. L. Mezzetta, Inc. and was put in touch with their insurance provider. He was given a claim number, but, the suit alleges, the insurance company denied any liability and refused to settle the claim or pay for Halper’s medical costs.

This is not the first time Halper has filed a claim against Mezzetta alleging that an olive was jarred with its pit, but the earlier results weren’t as serious, according to the suit. The first incident was more than eight years ago, the suit says.

In the last decade, Halper said that he has filed claims and received settlements from the company at least two other times. He keeps eating the olives, he said, because the brine they jar the olives with is “second to none.”

“I guess I’m basically loyal to Mezzetta,” Halper said. “I love these olives. I shouldn’t be precluded from eating (them) and enjoying (them) simply because G. L. Mezzetta, Inc. doesn’t accept a strong enough responsibility to ensure in their processing and bottling that the pits are removed.”

The olive packaging does have a warning on it, according to the suit. The warning says “Caution: Due to mechanical pitting, a pit or pit fragment may remain in the olive.” Halper calls this warning “obscure” and “barely identifiable.”

He proposes in his suit that the label read: “Warning – serious danger – do not attempt to eat without personally physically opening up each Kalamata olive and probing for an olive pit,” or “Warning – Consuming these pitted Kalamata olives may result in serious injury to your teeth by biting down on a pit or pit fragments which may have not been removed.”

If they don’t want to change the label, he says, maybe they should stop processing and bottling pitted olive products and simply bottle whole grown Greek Kalamata olives.

Halper said that he is representing himself because no attorney would take the case pro bono. Although he needs — and would “entertain” — a financial settlement from the company so he can afford an implant, Harper says that he wants all olive processing companies to take more responsibility in either marking their products or ensuring that the pits are actually removed.

A case management conference is scheduled for May 23.


Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working at as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC. S