Since late May, at least 470 consumers of Daily Harvest’s lentil and leek crumbles, a recalled accompaniment included in some of its meal kits, have gotten sick, the company said Thursday in a press release.
Daily Harvest — a direct-to-consumer provider of vegan-friendly smoothies, bowls and other foods that are typically shipped the mail — has stopped production and distribution of the product and is “a root cause investigation” in conjunction with the US Food and Drug Administration.
“From April 28 to June 17, 2022, approximately 28,000 units of the recalled product were distributed to consumers in the continental United States through online sales and direct delivery, as well as through retail sales at the Daily Harvest store in Chicago, IL, and a ‘pop-up’ store in Los Angeles, CA,” the company said in Thursday’s press release, referring to a pop-up event in Venice May 20-21. “Samples were also provided to a small number of consumers.”
Some of those affected say they have been hospitalized. Few of them have answers yet, beyond instructions emailed earlier this week telling them to discard the crumbles in question.
The crumbles went out to influencers in April, then in May the company hosted the Venice Beach pop-up. The press release said subscribers could buy the crumbles — three servings for $9.79 — and add them “to tacos, pasta sauces, Daily Harvest Flatbreads, and more.”
There was nothing said about abdominal pain, fever, chills, jaundice symptoms and indications of possible liver severe damage. But those conditions are being discussed on various social media platforms among subscribers to the service.
For weeks, customers have made claims on the Daily Harvest Reddit forum alleging they experienced “food poisoning,” “extreme stomach pain/sickness” and “liver damage” after eating the lentil crumbles. Some posters said they or a family member had been hospitalized.
Symptoms cited on Reddit included “debilitating” stomach pain, fever and elevated liver enzyme levels indicating possible damage. Several commenters said they went to the emergency room for relief and underwent tests without any results that explained what had happened to them.
One alleged his wife had been hospitalized for two days and was going back for more tests. There is a lot of discussion about various toxins that might be causing the liver-related symptoms.
Others have complained about a muted response from the company as it tries to navigate the outcry.
Daily Harvest, which markets itself with a promise of sustainably sourced fruits and veggies, first posted information via a link on social media earlier this week. The company then emailed customers who had received the crumbles directly, telling them to “dispose of the product and not eat it.” It also provided consumers its general contact email address.
The company included a caveat, at least in the emails that were sent to influencers: “As included in cooking instructions, lentils must be thoroughly cleaned to an internal temperature of 165°F. Like some other legumes, lentils contain a type of protein that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms unless fully cooked.”
While the most serious complaints have been about the French lentil and leek crumbles, some people are now also concerned about the flatbreads — and possible cross-contamination of other products that might be produced in the same facility.
“My children began vomiting two hours after consumption of the flatbreads,” said Ashley, a Daily Harvest customer since 2019 who asked that only her first name be used to protect the identities of her children. “Initially they said their stomachs hurt. We placed them in bed for the evening.”
About 45 minutes later, she said, nearly three hours after their “pizza night” flatbread dinner, the kids began vomiting — first the 6-year-old, then the 3-year-old. It continued through the night, finally slowing down around 4 in the morning on June 11. “They’re so tiny … watching their bodies heave” was awful, the North Carolina resident said.
Ashley said she texted friends to see if any of their kids were sick (they weren’t) and ultimately decided that it had been the flatbreads, a dish the kids had eaten multiple times before without issue.
This past week, after a friend forwarded a news report about the lentil crumbles issue, she took the kids for blood tests. Sure enough, every level having to do with the liver was out of whack. She’s now in wait-and-see mode, keeping an eye on the kids to make sure no new symptoms occur.
Ashley said she contacted Daily Harvest twice, once after the kids got sick and again after their bloodwork came back with elevated levels. She has been frustrated by the poor communication from a company she has been “extremely satisfied” with for years.
“We are all just left in the dark to put the pieces together,” she said.
An FDA spokesperson contacted Thursday could not “confirm or deny if an investigation is planned or in progress” on items not already listed on its outbreak investigations web page.
“However, the FDA takes seriously reports of possible adulteration of a food that may also cause illnesses or injury,” the spokesperson added. “Depending on the seriousness of the problem, an FDA investigator may visit the person who made the complaint, collect product samples, and initiate inspections. Complaints of a less serious nature or those that appear to be isolated incidents are monitored and the information may be used during a future inspection of a company to help the FDA identify problem areas in a production plant.”
Several Reddit users, including one Massachusetts woman whom The Times spoke to by phone as confirmation, posted that FDA controversy had been to their homes and collected samples of the crumbles.
The FDA also said it publishes “specific guidance” for consumers once that guidance is developed — ie, if the agency can track down the particular issue that’s causing a problem.