Consumers claimed the company’s new plant-based protein sent them to the hospital; tara flour is apparently to blame
In late April, Daily Harvest — a celebrity-backed food brand that’s popular on social media for its ready-to-blend smoothies and other frozen foods — announced the launch of its plant-based protein line called Crumbles, which come in walnut and thyme and French lentil and leek varieties. In June, Daily Harvest recalled its French lentil and leek crumbles following a spate of alarming customer reports, and announced in its recall statement that it would launch an investigation into the lentil crumbles and advised anyone with a bag to dispose of them and not eat them. “Our mission has always been to take care of food so food can take care of you. That means quality, safety, and transparency are and always will be our top priorities,” the company wrote.
Across social media, Daily Harvest consumers shared stories of physical pain and hospitalizations after eating the lentil crumbles. Here’s what you should know about the situation, especially if you’ve got a package at home.
What’s going on?
In June, the Daily Harvest subreddit, an otherwise fairly inactive group for discussing smoothie recommendations and delivery gripes, began filling up with stories about people experiencing stomach pain, fevers, and gallbladder and liver problems after eating the lentil crumbles; the post, in which people are sharing symptoms, currently has over 1,500 comments.
The conversation extended onto other social media platforms. Via Instagram, one early tester, content creator Luke Wesley Pearson, claimed that after trying Daily Harvest’s lentils on two separate occasions, he had extreme gastrointestinal distress that led to hospitalization, a series of medical tests, and gallbladder removal surgery. Several commenters on Pearson’s posts also alleged they experienced gastrointestinal issues after eating the product.
Creative director Abigail Silverman shared her experience in a widely viewed TikTok, alleging she experienced “elevated liver levels” and liver issues that have continued a month after eating the crumbles. Silverman explained that despite a battery of tests, doctors have been unable to identify the specific cause of the issue. “I have had to adjust my entire life the past month to deal with this,” Silverman said in her video.
After the allegations began, Daily Harvest was still promoting the crumbles on Instagram, prompting some users to say that the company hadn’t acted quickly enough. It has since updated the captions on posts featuring the crumbles to direct followers to the Daily Harvest website, where they can read about the recall, but it has not posted anything else addressing the situation.
What is Daily Harvest?
Started in 2015, Daily Harvest offers plant-based, gluten-free, and dairy-free food products through a subscription model, boasting a commitment to “a better food system, one that prioritizes human and planetary health.” This mission has earned the brand popularity among social media influencers and celebrity investors including Serena Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun White, and Bobby Flay. “I’m so impressed with Daily Harvest’s quality and approach to good living and healthful eating that I literally begged the founders to let me invest,” Flay told Fortune in 2017. By and large, Daily Harvest has been considered a food startup success story: It brought in over $250 million of revenue in five years and was valued at $1.1 billion this past November, putting founder Rachel Drori on Forbes’ 2022 list of America’s richest self-made women.
What’s causing the reported illnesses?
On July 19, Daily Harvest announced that it had identified tara flour, a high-protein flour made from the seeds of a tree native to Peru, as the cause of the issues, which affected about 470 people, including 30 people who had their gallbladders removed, according to the Los Angeles Times. Daily Harvest didn’t specify the producer of the tara flour. Per Daily Harvest’s statement:
We have only used this ingredient in French Lentil + Leek Crumbles and we are no longer sourcing from this producer who does not provide any ingredients for our 140+ other items. This was the first and only time we’ve used tara flour, which has been available and used in the North American market as a plant-based source of protein prior to our use. Our investigation team will continue working with the FDA, the tara flour producer and others to help determine what specifically made people sick.
At least one other company has pulled tara flour-containing products from its circulation. Revive Superfoods, another home delivery-based frozen food company, has removed its mango and pineapple smoothie from further sale, according to ABC7. Zandi Holup, a singer, reported similar problems of liver issues and hospitalization after consuming Revive’s product.
Are customers taking action against Daily Harvest?
As of June 21, Jeffrey Bowersox, a lawyer representing some customers affected by the Daily Harvest situation, told Eater he planned to file suit against the company “to encourage the actions described above.”
On June 27, the food safety law firm Marler Clark filed the “first of many” lawsuits against Daily Harvest on behalf of Carol Ann Ready, an Oklahoma woman who experienced severe abdominal pain, liver and gallbladder dysfunction, and eventual gallbladder removal after eating Daily Harvest’s product on two occasions. Marler Clark notably represented customers who fell ill as a result of the 1993 E. coli outbreak at Jack in the Box.
Update: June 28, 2022, 3:50 p.m.: This article was updated to include information about a lawsuit filed against Daily Harvest.
Update: July 20, 2022, 12:00 p.m.: This article was updated to include Daily Harvest’s identification of tara flour as the cause of the issues.