These Daily Harvest customers say the brand's lentil crumbles sent them to the hospital with extreme pain, liver damage. Now, they want answers.

·11 min read
Customers of Daily Harvest claim the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles made them severely ill. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Customers of Daily Harvest claim the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles made them severely ill. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Daily Harvest, a meal delivery service, is facing backlash after numerous customers have complained of serious side effects from eating one of its products.

On Sunday, the company — which sells plant-based products like bowls and smoothies — sent out an email to consumers instructing them not to eat, and to throw away, their frozen French Lentil + Leek Crumbles after a “small number” of people reported “gastrointestinal discomfort.” The message, it said, was sent out of an “abundance of caution.”

“As included in our cooking instructions, lentils must be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165℉,” the email read. “Like some other legumes, raw lentils contain a type of protein that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms unless thoroughly cooked.”

Yet social media tells a different story. The same day the email was sent, Abigail Silverman, a creative director at Cosmopolitan, took to TikTok to share that she was “shaking” after reading the Daily Harvest email — because it explained the health crisis she's been dealing with over the last month after receiving a press package from Daily Harvest. (Yahoo Life reached out to Silverman but has not heard back.)

“I started having extreme stomach and gastro pain and went to the hospital the ER in the middle of the night,” she recalled in the video. “When I was in the ER they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I had elevated liver levels and then there was some bacteria in my urine.”

Ultimately, the doctors couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong or what the cause was. But once Silverman read the Daily Harvest email, she realized that she wasn’t alone in dealing with extreme symptoms after eating the product. Social media posts, which Silverman shared screenshots of in her TikTok, revealed dozens of people sharing details of their extreme pain and trips to the hospital — as well as elevated liver levels.

Caroline Sweet, an actor, writer and producer living in Los Angeles, was one such person who shared her experience on social media. Over the phone, Sweet explained to Yahoo Life that last Tuesday evening, she made tacos using the Daily Harvest product — and experienced more than a week of strange symptoms. It began with stomach cramping that felt high up in her body, almost at her diaphragm, just hours after having dinner. By the morning, she said the pain felt like the “most intense stomach cramping” she had ever felt in her life, leaving her in tears. Hours later, she had a fever of 102. For the next two days, she could barely get out of bed.

When she started feeling better on Saturday, she noticed that her urine was extremely dark — despite making it a point to hydrate with electrolytes. Her fecal matter was white. That was when she decided to go to the emergency room.

“I don't know what this is but things that come from white poo are not great,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Like, what if it’s my gallbladder. What if it’s cancer?”

After having tests done, she learned she had elevated liver enzymes.

And then, just as she was coming out of her abdominal scan, she got the email.

“I threw my phone across my hospital bedroom,” she says. “It's these crumbles. … This is so insane. And as I’m laid up in the hospital, the email was like, ‘Some people have minor GI discomfort.’ That is so minimizing.”

Sweet, who was discharged from the hospital the same day, is now feeling better, but she is having her liver checked this week. Mostly, she just wants to know what may have caused her condition. She says she found a community on Reddit where many are sharing details of suffering from the same symptoms, some of whom are having the crumbles tested. So far, however, no one has shared results.

Los Angeles-based content creator and jewelry maker Jenna Dargenzio also experienced scary symptoms after eating the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles but didn’t connect the dots until she saw Silverman’s TikTok. She, too, received an early PR package from the company in May, more than a month before Daily Harvest sent their warning email. Hours after having the product for dinner, Dargenzio tells Yahoo Life that she went to the hospital due to suffering from “the most excruciating pain” she had ever experienced.

The ER doctors suspected that she had a urinary tract infection (UTI), but after tests, they couldn’t find any answers for her symptoms. They put her on morphine, but, she says, her pain broke through. She went home in extreme pain, only to return to the ER later, where they did a CT scan — but no answers were found.

Because Dargenzio never had a reason to blame the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles on her symptoms, she did not throw out the product like the company now suggests. Her husband Marc then ate the crumbles. Dargenzio says he experienced symptoms of his own, including severe itching, which can be a sign of liver disease. He is still waiting on his test results. Dargenzio is also seeking answers and says a doctor has ordered a stool sample after her endoscopy came back normal.

Luke Wesley Pearson, a Portland, Ore.-based influencer who promotes healthy living and a vegan diet, was also disturbed to learn that his health issues could stem from the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, which he received in a PR package in early May. After receiving the Daily Harvest email, he posted his own TikTok explaining that he, too, experienced extreme symptoms. While he dealt with pain in his diaphragm that left him tossing and turning all night after eating the crumbles on May 29, things took a much worse turn after he had them again on June 6. In addition to the extreme stomach pain he had experienced mildly the week prior, his new symptoms included a fever, body aches and chills.

In an email to Yahoo Life, Pearson explains: “On June 8, I went to the doctor's office because I now had the worst bilateral low back pain of my life which started while I was asleep. My wife had to help me stand up and sit down for 3 days, and I was unable to lay down flat during that time due to the severe pain. I had very dark urine and the bottoms of my feet and hands were extremely itchy. At this doctor's visit, I got blood work and urinalysis done. This is where I learned I had extremely elevated liver enzymes in the 400-700s, and a very high bilirubin.”

He was sent home and told to return to the ER if things got worse. On June 9, he went in for a CT scan and noticed in the evening that his skin and eyes were looking yellow, which can be a sign of jaundice and can be an indicator of serious issues like hepatitis, gallstones and tumors.

“I called my doctor the next morning June 10 to let her know, and she said I needed to go to the ER. I went to the ER and was there getting tests done for about 26 hours before being admitted to the hospital,” he writes. “Among my tests, I was negative for hepatitis, COVID, kidney infections, kidney stones and UTI. Despite not having gallbladder pain, the doctors at the hospital believed that I might have had a gallstone that got out and blocked a duct, causing my liver enzymes to spike, and that I must have already passed it naturally. Ultimately there was never any evidence of this, but out of precaution, and with the information they had, they recommended taking my gallbladder out to alleviate symptoms and prevent this from ever happening again. [On] June 12 I had surgery. Because we had ruled out so many things at this point, they believed removing my gallbladder was the best-case scenario and that this would hopefully allow my liver to heal and prevent long-term liver damage.”

Since Pearson says he regularly eats lentils, he didn’t assume that food poisoning was the cause of his issues. The Daily Harvest product never came to Pearson’s mind at all — until a friend sent him Silverman’s video.

“I was laying in bed when I started watching it and immediately sat up. I was like wait wait wait... and then it clicked,” he says. “My wife, Kelsey, remembered I was standing in the kitchen eating the crumbles on June 6 when my symptoms began, and then I remembered that's what I was eating on May 29 when I first had that stomachache. Everything just clicked in that moment and it's been very overwhelming and traumatizing to process all while trying to recover from surgery. But I will say it's also been validating after hearing so many others who have experienced this.”

Dr. Siyab Panhwar, an internist, cardiology fellow and public health advocate who has not treated any of the Daily Harvest customers, says the cases appear to represent "acute food poisoning."

"Obviously, it is too early to confidently say what exactly caused this but my best guess is either contamination with a toxin, such as mold, spoiled ingredients at one or more of the many manufacturing/packaging/shipping steps," he tells Yahoo Life. "The acute liver injury seems to be transient, thankfully — this can be caused by any number of toxins that cause some damage to the liver, that eventually recovers. The liver damage requires hospitalization for monitoring. It remains to be seen whether there will be any long-term damage from this, though I don't suspect there will be."

Gastroenterologist Dr. Rudolph Bedford, who also has not treated any of the patients making claims against Daily Harvest, says that it's likely challenging for doctors to diagnose the reason behind the symptoms due to the fact that, by the time people get to the hospital for testing, "the offending agent, be it a bacteria, a virus or a parasite, may have already cleared the system, but the effects are still there."

Bedford says that while different bacteria can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, viruses like hepatitis A can cause abnormal liver function.

"Any food poisoning tends to pass more quickly through the system, but hepatitis A tends to linger," he explains. "Bacteria doesn't lead to liver disease or injury because they're not directly acting on the liver."

On social media, the company acknowledged the controversy by editing the caption of a June 12 Instagram post featuring their Walnut + Thyme Crumbles to include, “UPDATE 6/19: An important message regarding our French Lentil + Leek Crumbles. Link in bio with details.” The link in the bio goes to Daily Harvest’s statement regarding the health issue. The post has since been deleted.

In a June 21 statement to Yahoo Life, Daily Harvest said:

Nothing matters more than the health and safety of our customers and we deeply value the trust you put in us and our food every day. We’ve received customer reports of French Lentil + Leek Crumbles causing gastrointestinal issues. We took immediate steps to address what we heard from customers, reaching out to every person who received French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, instructing them to dispose of the product and not eat it. We simultaneously launched an investigation with internal and external experts throughout our supply chain and in accordance with regulatory procedures. We will share more information as soon as it’s available. 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. If you have any French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, please dispose of them and do not eat them. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to email us at hello@daily-harvest.com so we can follow up with you directly.

On June 22, the company shared a separate statement on Instagram addressing what it is now calling a "voluntary recall."

Daily Harvest said it "launched an investigation to identify the root cause of the health issues being reported," working with the FDA, as well as independent labs and experts to "get to the bottom of this."

The FDA has not confirmed to Yahoo Life whether an investigation into Daily Harvest is ongoing.

“The FDA cannot confirm or deny if an investigation is planned or in progress, that is not already listed on our Outbreak Investigations table,” it said in an email to Yahoo Life on June 21. “However, the FDA takes seriously reports of possible adulteration of a food that may also cause illnesses or injury. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, an FDA investigator may visit the person who made the complaint, collect product samples, and initiate inspections. Complaints of a less serious nature or those that appear to be isolated incidents are monitored and the information may be used during a future inspection of a company to help the FDA identify problem areas in a production plant. The complaints are also discussed with company management during these inspections. It is also important to note that when specific consumer guidance can be developed (such as avoiding a specific contaminated food), the FDA and CDC will publish outbreak advisories communicating that guidance.”

According to Pearson, Daily Harvest isn’t doing enough to address what he sees as a very concerning health crisis. “Point blank,” he says, “they aren’t doing enough.”

“People are being hospitalized with potential liver damage, others like me might be having their gallbladders removed,” he says. “Our doctors don't know what to test for since we don't know the cause — we need to know what the results of the testing are so we can seek proper treatment for ourselves. This company is supposed to be health-centric. Their website says ‘From seed to plate, we’re committed to a better food system, one that prioritizes human and planetary health.’ Their response (or lack thereof) has not been about prioritizing human health. We deserve answers.”

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