Daily Harvest said Tuesday that it has identified tara flour as the ingredient causing hundreds of people to become sick, with some reporting liver dysfunction and having to have their gallbladder removed, after eating a lentil-based product from the popular vegan food company.
As of July 14, there were 96 hospitalizations and 277 reports of illness around the country connected to Daily Harvest’s “French Lentil & Leek Crumbles,” the Food and Drug Administration said last week, citing complaint reports. The FDA has been investigating complaints of “gastrointestinal illness and abnormal liver function” related to the Daily Harvest frozen product.
“At this time, we have identified tara flour as the cause of the issue,” Daily Harvest said in a statement on its website Tuesday afternoon. “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.”
Tara flour is made from the seed of the tara tree.
“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,” Daily Harvest said. “Our investigation team will continue working with the FDA, the tara flour producer and others to help determine what specifically made people sick.”
Daily Harvest initiated a voluntary recall of the product last month after customers began to complain of becoming sick. Some reported elevated liver enzymes and hospitalizations as well as having their gallbladder removed.
The company also faces several lawsuits from people who say they became sick after consuming the product. Two of the lawsuits were filed against the company and the product’s manufacturer on behalf of two children, including a 4-month-old who was breastfeeding.
Bill Marler, an attorney representing the families, said he was “not surprised” by Daily Harvest’s announcement, and said he told the company’s lawyer that tara flour was the likely culprit, given that the lentil dish was the only item that contained it.
Marler said he has more than 250 clients in connection with the Daily Harvest complaints with potential claims against the company.
Still unknown, Marler said, is what in the tara flour is causing people to become ill.
He said neither Daily Harvest, the FDA, nor his lab had confirmed yet whether the tara flour contains a toxin or a chemical, for instance, that is making people sick.
“So, there’s still more work to do,” he said.
Daily Harvest did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.
The company previously said its testing had ruled out common food-borne pathogens, major allergens, pesticide, Hepatitis A, norovirus and a range of mycotoxins, including aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are a type of toxin produced by fungus that can grow on grains and seeds.
The company said in a previous statement to NBC News that it does not comment on pending or potential litigation. Daily Harvest emphasized, however, that it initiated a recall as soon as it received reports of customer illnesses, is working with the FDA to investigate, and reached out multiple times to customers who bought the lentil product.
The FDA did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.
Daily Harvest first issued a statement advising customers about reports of illnesses on June 19. The company posted a voluntary recall announcement via the FDA on June 23.