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Class Sues Bashas’ for Mislabeled Meat

PHOENIX (CN) - Bashas', a major grocery chain in Arizona, mislabeled "Choice" beef tenderloin as "Prime" for more than two years, and made $1.4 million from it, a customer claims in a class action.

A USDA investigation found that AJ's mislabeled 17,636 pounds of "Prime" tenderloin steaks and 139,861 pounds of "Kobe" sold to customers over 25 months, costing customers about $1.4 million.

Bashas' in August entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office of Arizona. Bashas' agreed to "admit, accept, and acknowledge corporate responsibility for the conduct of some meat department managers," and pay $1.4 million in restitution to the Tucson Community Food Bank, St. Mary's Food Bank, United Food Bank, the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, and the Association of Arizona Food Banks.

A Bashas' representative did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit and agreement.

Lead plaintiff Myles Schneider sued Bashas' in Maricopa County Court.

Bashas' has more than 130 stores and has doubled in size in the past decade, according to the company website, which says it also owns AJ's Fine Foods and Food City.

Schneider claims that AJ's Fine Foods, Bashas' upscale market, sold beef tenderloin as "Prime" that had been graded as "Choice" under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's meat-grading system, between January 2010 and February 2012. There are about 12 AJ's stores in the Phoenix area.

Bashas' overcharged its customers about $10 per pound, Schneider claims, because "Prime" steak is typically much more expensive than "Choice" steak, and AJ's sold "Prime" steak for about $35.99 per pound and "Choice" steak for about $25.99 per pound.

A number of AJ's locations "also had a practice of adding trimmings from less-expensive, non-'Kobe' meat products to premium American-Style 'Kobe' ground beef," Schneider claims.

Schneider, a regular customer of AJ's, claims he "would not have purchased the products had they been accurately labeled ... [and] has been harmed in that he did not receive what he bargained for; instead, he received meat products of a much lower quality despite paying a higher price."

He seeks refunds for the class, and punitive damages for consumer fraud.

He is represented by Camille Bass of Patterson Law Group in San Diego.

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