A law firm that has been a diligent watchdog over food safety practices in restaurants said Tuesday that it plans to file “several” lawsuits against the meal ware company that features a vegan alternative to ground beef.
The product, French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, was voluntarily recalled by its supplier, multi-channel retailer Daily Harvest. The company is also collaborating with the Food and Drug Administration in efforts to identify people with the disease who ingested the product after having it shipped home, purchased it from a Daily Harvest outlet or tried a free sample.
About 470 people told federal authorities they experienced severe digestive problems after eating Crumbles, which are supposed to be replaced with beef in items such as tacos. About 28,000 units of the product are suspected to be contaminated, although the exact disease-causing agent has not been isolated for eating.
In at least one case, a female consumer was hospitalized due to effects on her internal organs. The woman’s gallbladder was removed due to the severity of her illness, according to Marler Clark, the law firm that is suing the Daily Harvest on her behalf.
The company says the victim, Carol Ann Reddy of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is one of about 100 people who contacted Marler Clark about taking legal action against Daily Harvest.
“We are in the process of testing approximately two dozen remaining products to identify ingredients in these products that may cause such severe symptoms,” said Marler Clark Partner. Bill Marler.
Rachel Drury, Daily Harvest CEO, told the public via a message posted Monday on the company’s website that it is trying aggressively to find the cause of the outbreak.
“We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she wrote.
Drury recounted that ten days of working with the Food and Drug Administration, government health authorities and third parties from the private sector failed to disclose what had hit customers.
She added that the investigation has so far ruled out the presence of familiar food contaminants such as listeria, E. coli, salmonella and staphylococcus. The tests also did not reveal the presence of allergens such as eggs, soy, milk and gluten.
“I realize this is very frustrating,” Drury wrote. “I’m incredibly frustrated.” She said the company will expand its hunt to include less common pollutants.
Drury stressed that the search for the cause made the company confident that none of its other products posed a risk to customers.
Marler and Company are renowned food safety professionals in the restaurant industry. He has represented a large number of clients in actions arising from food contamination, including a 9-year-old victim of the 1993 E. coli outbreak that was traced to the Jack in the Box chain.
Marler Clark refers to itself as the Food Safety Law Firm.
A number of restaurant-related outbreaks in the past 30 years have been traced back to greens and vegetables, including spinach, peppers, leeks, and onions. In fact, many experts argue that plant ingredients served raw pose a greater risk of contamination because there is no “kill phase” or exposure to high heat that kills many pathogens.
But the status of the Daily Harvest is a rare example of a meat analogue suspected of being dangerous. It arises when the restaurant industry’s embrace of factory-forward elements appears to be steadily increasing.
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