Black licorice contains a compound from the licorice root that can cause consumers to suffer serious health issues including abnormal heart rates, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. Many manufacturers of black licorice products have started using a synthetic version of this compound which is safer. Hersey and other companies, however, have refused to switch to the safer synthetic version.
There are product liability lawsuits against Hershey and other companies for failing to warn that their black licorice candy products can cause health problems. If you suffered an adverse reaction to black licorice resulting in serious health consequences, contact our office today for a free consultation.
Black Licorice Health Risks
Black licorice has been a popular candy for a very long time, and it’s sold on its own and as a component of other candy products. Black licorice contains the plant compound glycyrrhizin (more commonly known as glycyrrhizic acid), which is the sweetening agent derived from the licorice root.
Glycyrrhizic acid can have harmful effects on the body when consumed. It can cause potassium levels in the body to drop suddenly and drastically and it can trigger hazardous imbalances in other important minerals such as sodium.
As a result of this reaction, consuming black licorice products can cause people to suffer adverse physical reactions including abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and even congestive heart failure.
In October 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that consuming two ounces of black licorice daily for two weeks or more could lead to heart problems in individuals aged 40 and above. This alert was supported by a 2013 study from researchers at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, which referenced multiple medical studies dating back to the 1970s. The study, published in Endocrinology and Metabolism, highlighted the significant risks excessive licorice consumption poses to the cardiovascular system, primarily due to the glycyrrhizin it contains. Glycyrrhizin, a sweetening agent derived from licorice root found in products like Twizzlers Black Licorice, can lower potassium levels in the body, resulting in abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, edema, lethargy, and congestive heart failure. Glycyrrhetic acid, licorice’s active metabolite, disrupts the 11-ß-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase enzyme type 2, causing an imbalance in sodium and potassium levels.
In September 2020, the New England Medical Journal even reported that a man died of cardiac arrest after consuming black licorice.
Many black licorice candy products in the U.S. today avoid these dangers by using various synthetic ingredients that mimic the flavor and smell of black licorice root but do not contain glycyrrhizin and are therefore safer. Hershey, one of the largest candy companies in the U.S., has refused to use synthetic substitutes, and all of the black licorice products (which include brands like Twizzlers and Good & Plenty) that it sells contain the dangerous glycyrrhizic acid compound.
Health Agency Warnings About Black Licorice Risks
In response to a growing number of documented cases and reports of serious adverse reactions to black licorice products, many public health agencies have issued warnings about the potential dangers of black licorice.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a general public warning that consuming more than 2 ounces of black licorice per day for two weeks or longer could result in serious heart conditions. The FDA warning notes that this risk is particularly high for people over 40 and those with certain conditions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken a similar position. WHO advises a maximum daily intake of 2 mg of black licorice because of the potentially dangerous adverse effects of glycyrrhizin.
Hershey’s Failure to Warn About the Risks of Black Licorice
The Hershey Company is one of the leading makers of black licorice candy and it has refused to use safer, synthetic substitutes instead of actual black licorice root. Despite the warnings from public health agencies, however, Hershey has also refused to put any type of warning label on its products about the potential risks of black licorice.
Hershey has refused to warn consumers about the risks of black licorice even though the medical community has known for years now about the adverse physical effects and dangers of glycyrrhizin.
In 2013, a research group from Chicago’s Mercy Hospital published a review in Endocrinology and Metabolism warning of the substantial cardiovascular threat of excess black licorice consumption. The review cited various medical studies on the subject dating back to the 1970s.
In 2015, a case study was published in Pediatric Neurology detailing the account of a 10-year-old boy who suffered seizures after eating black licorice products. The case study urged Hershey and other manufacturers to provide warnings or maximum dose recommendations on their packaging.
A product liability lawsuit was brought against Hershey in 2018 by a man in New York alleging that Twizzler black licorice consumption caused him to suffer permanent atrial fibrillation.
Most recently, in September 2020, the New England Medical Journal reported on a case where a 54-year-old construction worker from the Boston area died when his heart stopped working due to an adverse reaction to black licorice.
Despite all of this information about the potential risks of black licorice, Hershey continues to refuse to include any sort of warning or daily dose recommendation on its product labels. As a result, people who consume Hershey’s black licorice products may have no idea that it can trigger dangerous cardiovascular problems.
So even with the known health risks associated with glycyrrhizin, Twizzlers Black Licorice products, which contain licorice extract rich in this compound, have been sold in one-pound bags without any warnings about the potential dangers. Hershey, aware of the health threats posed by its black licorice candy for years, failed to advise consumers of the risks or modify the harmful ingredients in its products. Consequently, there are no warnings on the packaging about the possibility of dangerously low potassium levels or the array of related health issues, neglecting consumer safety and health.
Hershey Black Licorice Lawsuits
In July 2021, a group of 4 people who suffered serious injuries from adverse black licorice reactions brought a product liability lawsuit against Hershey. The lawsuit alleges that Hershey was negligent for failing to provide a warning label on its products. All of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that they experienced serious adverse cardiovascular reactions to Hershey’s black licorice which resulted in permanent injuries. This lawsuit is still pending in 2024.
The black licorice lawsuit against Hershey could be the start of a growing trend. Hershey has attempted to have the case dismissed for failure to state a claim, but that motion was recently denied by the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. This means that the case will now move forward into the civil discovery phase and the plaintiffs will present their expert testimony to establish causation.
Hershey will undoubtedly seek to challenge the adequacy of the plaintiffs’ causation evidence in the current black licorice lawsuit under the Daubert standard. If the plaintiffs can present credible causation evidence and survive a Daubert challenge, however, it will immediately open the door to additional black licorice lawsuits.