When General Mills Co. bakers licked the spoon one morning last August, the vanilla frosting didn't taste right. Something was wrong with the artificial vanilla flavoring they had bought from McCormick & Co. Inc.
So they threw out the 24,000-pound batch -- enough to frost a 50-foot-high cake filling the infield at Memorial Stadium -- and set off a dispute that has ended up in federal court.
In a lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, McCormick, the Hunt Valley-based spice company, charges that one of its suppliers mislabeled a shipment, thus ruining the artificial vanilla and the frosting.
"There was no health hazard or safety risk," Allen "Mac" Barrett Jr., a McCormick spokesman, said. But the mistake was costly.
McCormick is asking for $150,000 in damages to repay General Mills and recoup its own losses.
The supplier, Oxford Organics Inc., declined to comment on the lawsuit yesterday. Oxford Organics is a New Jersey-based subsidiary of a British company, Oxford Chemicals International.
In the lawsuit, McCormick says Oxford normally supplies a chemical called guaiacol that is a minor ingredient in artificial vanilla.
According to the court papers, Oxford sent McCormick an unordered 8 1/2 -pound box that was labeled guaiacol last December.
Although puzzled by the shipment, McCormick used the chemical in batches of artificial vanilla it made this summer, the company said.
When General Mills called to complain, McCormick said that it discovered the chemical wasn't guaiacol but another flavoring called pentatone.
Besides being billed by General Mills for the $115,000 worth of destroyed frosting, McCormick said that it had to destroy its remaining batch of bad artificial vanilla -- some 375 gallons, or enough to fill a six-person hot tub. The flavoring was worth $6,000, McCormick said.
The extra money will cover the damage the incident did to McCormick's business relationship with General Mills, court papers say.
This is the second lawsuit over ingredients McCormick has filed in as many years.
Last year, McCormick sued a company in Spokane, Wash., for providing funny-tasting nacho cheese flavoring ingredients.
In that $1.9 million suit, also filed in federal court, McCormick alleged Commercial Creamery Co. sold it moldy cheese.
McCormick said that the cheese had been treated with sorbic acid to get rid of the mold, and that the acid made the cheese taste funny.
As a result, McCormick said, its customer, Frito-Lay, threw out 60,000 cases of nacho chips, worth nearly $1.1 million.
And McCormick had to destroy nearly 10 tons of its special nacho flavoring, worth almost $25,000.
William Bantz, Commercial Creamery's attorney, said last night that his company is disputing McCormick's charges.
McCormick's attorney, Lewis A. Noonberg, said that McCormick isn't normally embroiled in ingredient lawsuits like this. "This is really just coincidental," he said.