Trouble continues to mount for Daily Harvest, a popular vegan food company that delivers directly to customers.
Monday Oklahoma woman, Carol Ann Ready, sued the company, alleging that she was hospitalized after eating her “French Lentils + Leek Crumbs” and had to have her gallbladder removed.
According to the Daily Harvest, at least 470 people have reported illness after eating the crumb. Ready’s attorney, Bill Marler, said he currently represents nearly 100 people with potential claims against the company.
“These people are all relatively young, healthy people, and they all have essentially the same symptoms, the same liver dysfunction and the same pain,” Marler said.
But the exact cause of the disease remains a medical mystery.
“The symptoms of this are just not typical of what we would see with your traditional types of food hazards,” said Martin Backnavage, senior food safety scientist at Pennsylvania State University. “It’s different and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
On Monday, Rachel Drory, 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 study the issue, but is testing for common foodborne pathogens, toxins and allergens. . all came back negative.”
“Despite consulting with numerous experts, cooperating with the FDA investigation, working with our supply chain and conducting extensive testing, we have not yet identified the cause,” she said. “I understand that this is so frustrating. I’m incredibly upset.”
Drory added in a statement that tests for “Listeria, E.Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph), B.Cereus and Clostridium Species” were negative.
In the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court for the Southern District of New York, Ready says she first ate crumbs on May 7 and then suffered from severe stomach and gastrointestinal problems, as well as pain in her right shoulder. According to the lawsuit, she went to the hospital, where doctors ordered several tests and scans, after which she was discharged.
In the lawsuit, Ready says that on May 28 she ate lentils again, her stomach and shoulder pain worsened, and she again went to the hospital. According to the statement, she was hospitalized with elevated levels of liver enzymes and was diagnosed with liver and gallbladder dysfunction.
Ready claims her doctors told her the condition could cause “indefinite pain” and recommended that her “damaged gallbladder” be removed, which they did on Friday.
Vegan influencer Luke Wesley Pearson shared a similar story on social media last week, claiming he had to have his gallbladder removed after eating the lentil product twice.
“It changed my life forever,” he said, adding, “Daily Harvest needs to be held accountable.”
Pearson said he hired legal counsel and referred NBC News to his attorney in response to an interview request.
Dr. Jasmohan Bajaj, a liver specialist and professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, said he too is not sure what might be causing the symptoms.
“I am stunned, as is 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 are wondering if the disease could be caused by aflatoxins, a type of toxin produced by a fungus that can grow on grains and seeds.
The company said Monday it is testing for “a wide range of toxins known as mycotoxins, including aflatoxins.”
“The first round of testing for the most common viruses came back negative, but we continue to use a wider network to make sure we haven’t missed anything,” the statement said.
Bajaj said exposure to aflatoxin “could cause some of these symptoms,” but that’s just one of many possibilities.
The Daily Harvest first released a statement informing customers of reported illnesses on June 19. On June 23, the company posted a voluntary recall announcement through the FDA.
Approximately 28,000 units of the product were sold to US consumers, according to the recall notice.
Anita, a Plano, Texas-based Daily Harvest customer who asked not to be released for medical privacy reasons, said she went through a “whirlwind” after eating lentil crumbs last week. The next day, her stomach began to hurt, and in the park with her son it got even worse.
“The pain in my stomach was pretty severe and I was there, just in the park,” she said. “I was standing outside and then I felt very, very weak, like I was about to pass out.”
Anita said she has been a Daily Harvest customer since 2019 due to their vegan options. The company was founded in 2015 and its business model is comparable to Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. He is known for his celebrity investors, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams, as well as powerful sponsors.
Anita said she developed a headache and nausea and noticed that her urine was dark in color. According to Anita, she went to her doctor, who told her that she should go to the emergency room for tests.
According to Anita, at the hospital, doctors told her that her “liver enzymes were very high” and performed a CT scan. She waits to find out more at subsequent meetings and worries about what comes next.
“It was pretty crazy, and what’s even scarier now is the medical bills,” she said.
In a statement on Monday, Drory said that “because the investigation has not yet identified a root cause, we are expanding our testing regime to look at other potential, albeit less common sources of contamination, as well as protein and amino acid profiling.”
In response to a request for litigation, the company said it would not comment on pending or potential litigation. However, Daily Harvest emphasized that it initiated the recall as soon as it received reports of customer illnesses, is working with the FDA on an investigation, and has repeatedly contacted customers who bought the lentil product.
“Everyone who has been hurt deserves a response, and we are committed to doing it right,” the company said.
Marler said about 30 people he represents send samples of their lentil crumbs to an FDA-approved lab for testing.
“These diseases scare and scare people. Hopefully we can provide some clarity because people want to know what their long-term outlook is,” he said.
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