Daily Harvest has been sued for lentil-related illness, but the cause remains a medical mystery

Troubles continue to mount for Daily Harvest, a popular vegan groceries company that ships directly to customers.

On Monday, a woman from Oklahoma, Carol Ann Ready, sued the company, claiming she was hospitalized after eating French Lentil + Leek Crumbles and needed to have her gallbladder removed.

At least 470 people have reported illness after eating the sprinkles, 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 people, and they all have essentially the same symptoms and liver dysfunction and 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 type of food hazard,” said Martin Bucknavage, a senior associate in food safety at Penn State University. “It’s different and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

On Monday, Daily Harvest CEO and founder Rachel Drori said in a statement that the company had been working with the Food and Drug Administration and other experts to investigate the issue, but that testing for common foodborne pathogens, toxins and allergens would be carried out. all came back negative.”

“Despite consulting with numerous experts, collaborating with the FDA investigation, working with our supply chain and conducting extensive testing, we have yet to identify a cause,” she said. “I know this is so frustrating. I’m incredibly frustrated.”

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

In the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court for the Southern District of New York, Ready says she first ate the sprinkles on May 7 and then suffered severe abdominal and gastrointestinal discomfort, as well as pain in her right shoulder. She went to the hospital, according to the suit, where doctors ordered several tests and scans and 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 went back to the hospital. According to the chart, she was admitted with elevated liver enzymes and was diagnosed with liver and gallbladder dysfunction.

Ready claims her doctors told her the condition could cause pain “indefinitely” and recommended that she remove her “damaged gallbladder,” which they did on Friday.

Vegan influencer Luke Wesley Pearson shared a similar story on social media last week, saying 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 announced that he has 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 isn’t sure what might be causing the symptoms.

“I’m stunned like everyone else. People try 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 disease could be due to aflatoxins, a type of toxin produced by fungi that can grow on grains and seeds.

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

“The first round of testing for the most common was negative, but we continue to cast a wider net to ensure we don’t miss anything,” the statement said.

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

Daily Harvest first issued a statement on June 19 notifying customers of reports of illness. The company released a voluntary recall notice through the FDA on June 23.

According to the recall notice, approximately 28,000 units of the product have been distributed to consumers in the United States.

Anita, a Daily Harvest customer in Plano, Texas, who requested that her last name not be released for reasons of medical privacy, said she suffered a “hurricane” after eating the lentil crumbs last week. Her stomach started hurting the next day and got worse while she was at the park with her son.

“The stomach pains were pretty bad and I was there, just in the park,” she said. “I was standing outside and then I felt really, really weak like I was about to pass out.”

Anita said she’s 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 headaches and nausea and noticed her urine was dark in color. She went to her doctor, who told her to go to the emergency room to be tested, Anita said.

At the hospital, doctors told her her “liver enzyme levels were very high” and performed a CT scan, Anita said. She awaits to learn more at follow-up appointments and is worried about what’s next.

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

In her Monday statement, Drori said, “As the investigation has not yet identified a root cause, we are expanding our testing program to investigate other potential, albeit less common, sources of contamination and protein and amino acid profiles.”

In response to a query about the lawsuit, the company said it is not commenting on any pending or potential litigation. However, Daily Harvest emphasized that it initiated a recall once it received reports of customer illness, was working with the FDA to investigate, and had reached out to customers who had purchased the lens product on a number of occasions.

“Everyone affected deserves a response and we are committed to putting this right,” the company said.

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

‚ÄúThese diseases are scary and scary for people. Hopefully we can provide clarity because people want to know what their long-term prognosis is,” he said.

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