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Snack food giant Frito-Lay is seeking to permanently seal court documents that show some of its pretzels and chips were tainted with toxins, including substances similar to kerosene and cleaning solvents. Company documents, such as customer complaints and product tests, were disclosed during a lawsuit filed in 1994 by a Boston psychologist who said she ate contaminated Doritos. But the papers weren’t accepted as evidence, and the case was dropped last month. Frito-Lay immediately moved to seal the documents. It has until today to file papers supporting the motion. If it does, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts is poised to step in to keep the records open, said staff attorney Sarah Wunsch. “Frito-Lay appears to be trying to cover up information that’s already out in the public domain,” Wunsch said. “That’s information about harm to the public.” Frito-Lay spokeswoman Lisa Van Riper denied the public’s health is at stake, and said the company wants the documents sealed because they weren’t used as evidence and weren’t relevant to the case. Psychologist Edye Merzer claimed in her lawsuit she suffered neurological damage from eating tainted Doritos. Independent tests by Merzer showed her Doritos contained perchlorethylene, a degreasing solvent and possible carcinogen. But Frito-Lay denied there was anything wrong with the chips. During pretrial proceedings, Merzer received a number of company documents. Many of the customer complaints weren’t valid, but the documents included company reports on others that showed numerous examples of tainted snacks. For example, a December 1991 Frito-Lay analysis of Nacho Cheese Doritos that a customer from Ohio returned, complaining of a chemical smell and taste, read, “This sample may have contained gasoline … or another type of hydrocarbon.” Tests after a customer from Laredo, Texas, sent back his Sour Cream and Onion Lay’s chips found “traces of a moderate boiling point hydrocarbon, similar to kerosene or cleaning solvent,” according to a record dated August 1991. A company memo from January 1993 indicates company officials may have tried to hide a negative test result after a customer from St. Louis complained that her snack had a chemical taste and smell. “The hydrocarbon contamination is like gasoline or a chemical carried in pesticides,” the report read. “It is best not to share this with the consumer.” Van Riper wouldn’t comment on the contents of the documents, citing the judge’s temporary gag order. She added that Frito-Lay, based in Plano, Texas, and owned by PepsiCo. Inc., receives complaints on just 0.012 percent of its products. “It’s extremely rare,” she said. Van Riper said the company has an established process to handle customer complaints and respond to consumers if there’s a problem: “We take every customer call very seriously.” Merzer dropped her seven-year-old suit June 8 after she decided unfavorable court rulings didn’t leave her with enough evidence to proceed. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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