Daily Harvest sued over lens-related illness, but cause remains a medical mystery

The problems continue to mount for Daily Harvest, a popular vegan food company that ships directly to customers.

On Monday, an Oklahoma woman, Carol Ann Ready, sued the company, alleging that she was hospitalized after eating her “French Lentil + Leek Crumbles” and had to have her gallbladder removed.

At least 470 people have reported illnesses after consuming the crumbs, according to Daily Harvest. Ready’s attorney Bill Marler said he now represents nearly 100 people with potential claims against the company.

“All of these people are relatively young, healthy, and all have essentially the same symptoms, the same liver dysfunction, and the same pain,” Marler said.

But the precise cause of the disease remains a medical mystery.

“The symptoms of this are just not typical of what we would see with your traditional type of food hazards,” said Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension associate at Penn State University. “It’s different, and it’s not something I’ve ever seen.”

On Monday, Rachel Drori, CEO and founder of Daily Harvest, said in a statement that the company is working with the Food and Drug Administration and other experts to investigate the matter, but is testing for pathogens, toxins and common food allergens “all came back negative.”

“Despite consulting numerous experts, cooperating with the FDA investigation, collaborating with our supply chain, and conducting extensive testing, we have not yet identified a cause,” she said. . “I admit it’s so frustrating. I’m incredibly frustrated.”

Drori added in his statement that the tests came back negative for “Listeria, E.Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph), B.Cereus and Clostridium Species”.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court for the Southern District of New York, Ready says she first ate the crumbs on May 7 and then suffered severe abdominal and gastrointestinal pain as well as pain. on the right shoulder. She went to the hospital, according to the suit, where doctors ordered several tests and scans, then discharged her.

Ready says in the lawsuit that she then ate the lentil meal again on May 28, had more abdominal and shoulder pain, and returned to the hospital. She was admitted with elevated liver enzymes, according to the record, and was diagnosed with liver and gallbladder dysfunction.

Ready alleges his doctors told him the condition could cause “pain indefinitely” and recommended having his “damaged gallbladder” removed, which they did on Friday.

Vegan influencer Luke Wesley Pearson shared a similar story on social media last week, saying he needed to have his gallbladder removed after eating the lentil product twice.

“My life is changed forever,” he said, adding, “Daily Harvest must be held accountable.”

Pearson announced that he had hired legal counsel and referred NBC News to his lawyer in response to an interview request.

Dr. Jasmohan Bajaj, a liver specialist and professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, said he too did not know what could be causing the symptoms.

“I’m amazed like everyone else. People are trying to be healthy and eat lentils, which are technically good for the liver,” he said. “It’s shocking that this is happening.”

Online, some experts and consumers have wondered if the illness could be due to aflatoxins, a type of toxin produced by a fungus that can grow on grains and seeds.

The company said on Monday it was testing for a “wide range of toxins known as mycotoxins, including aflatoxins.”

“The first round of testing on the most common came back negative, but we continue to cast a wider net to make sure we don’t miss anything,” the statement said.

Bajaj said exposure to an aflatoxin “could produce some of these symptoms,” but that’s just one of many possibilities.

Daily Harvest first issued a statement advising customers of the disease reports on June 19. The company issued a voluntary recall announcement through the FDA on June 23.

About 28,000 units of the product have been released to consumers in the United States, according to the recall notice.

Anita, a Daily Harvest customer in Plano, Texas, who asked that her last name be withheld for medical confidentiality reasons, said she endured a ‘whirlwind’ after eating the lentil crumbs last week. Her stomach started hurting the next day and got worse at the park with her son.

“The stomach pain was quite intense and I was there, just at the park,” she said. “I was standing outside and then I started to feel really, really weak like I was about to pass out.”

Anita said she has been a Daily Harvest customer since 2019 because of their vegan options. The company was founded in 2015 and its business model is comparable to services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. It is known for its celebrity investors, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams, and influencer sponsors.

Anita said she developed a headache and nausea and noticed her urine was dark in color. She went to see her doctor, who told her she needed to go to the emergency room for tests, Anita said.

At the hospital, doctors informed her that “her liver enzymes were very high” and performed a CT scan, Anita said. She expects to know more during follow-up appointments and worries about what will happen next.

“It was pretty crazy, and what’s also scary now are the medical bills,” she said.

In his Monday statement, Drori said that “as the investigation has not yet identified a root cause, we are expanding our testing scheme to explore other potential, albeit less common, sources of contamination as well as profiling. proteins and amino acids.

In response to an investigation into the lawsuit, the company said it does not comment on pending or potential litigation. Daily Harvest, however, pointed out that it issued a recall as soon as it received reports of customer illnesses, was working with the FDA to investigate, and repeatedly contacted customers who purchased the lentil product.

“Everyone who has been affected deserves a response, and we are committed to addressing it,” the company said.

Marler said about 30 of the people he represents send samples of their lens crumbs to an FDA-approved lab for testing.

“These diseases are scary for people. Hopefully we can get some clarity because people want to know what their long-term prognosis is,” he said.

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