The vegan food company Daily Harvest on Tuesday identified tara flour as the ingredient that has sickened hundreds of its customers, including some who were hospitalized after suffering stabbing abdominal pain and acute liver failure.
The direct-to-consumer company, which counts Serena Williams and Gwyneth Paltrow among its investors, used the flour in a product for the "first and only time" this year, Chief Executive Rachel Drori said Tuesday.
Made from the seed of a tree that's native to Peru, tara flour is high in protein and fiber and is sometimes used as a thickening agent in vegan recipes.
The tara flour appeared in a new Daily Harvest product called French Lentil + Leek Crumbles that launched this spring. Shipped frozen, the dish was designed to be sautéed and used as a meat replacement in dishes like salads, tacos and pastas.
The crumbles were sent to influencers in April and sold to customers in May. Daily Harvest also hosted a pop-up vegan deli counter on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach that served the crumbles in chopped salads and meatball sandwiches.
Daily Harvest recalled about 28,000 bags of the crumbles last month after customers complained of symptoms consistent with acute liver failure, including wrenching abdominal pain, nausea, fevers, jaundice and full-body itching. Customers across the country, including in Los Angeles County, reported symptoms.
The company will keep working with federal regulators and the producer of the tara flour "to help determine what specifically made people sick," Drori said in an email to customers.
She did not name the firm that supplied the tara flour.
Foodborne illness attorney Bill Marler, who is representing 285 Daily Harvest customers, said identifying the ingredient is a start but "really isn't saying much."
But, he said in an interview, outside experts — including the Food and Drug Administration and a lab hired by his firm — haven't found a cause for the illnesses either.
Daily Harvest, which is based in New York, has said about 470 people reported symptoms after eating the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles. The FDA has said 96 people had been hospitalized.
That includes about 30 people who had their gallbladders removed, Marler said, a dozen who had liver biopsies, and dozens of others who had batteries of tests and scans ordered by confused and concerned doctors.
"Six to eight weeks afterward, they're still not feeling well," Marler said. "People are understandably quite concerned and wanting to know what it is in their food product that's making them sick."
Daily Harvest had previously ruled out the presence of viruses like Hepatitis A, mold-based toxins, and pesticides or heavy metal levels, Drori said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.