The Instagram-friendly meal-setting service Daily Harvest is facing a firestorm of setbacks online over the voluntary recall of one of their products, after a number of people who ate it reported becoming ill with mysterious symptoms, including extremely elevated liver enzymes.
The direct-to-consumer brand has long used a network of online influencers to market their products. Now several influencers, who say they became ill, say that the company’s inadequate handling of the crisis places new responsibility on the influencer community to warn the public.
It also reveals the rapid fallout that can occur when you offend a demographic person with such a wide internet reach.
“This company was built on the backs of influencers,” said Cory Silverstein, who runs an organic skin care brand with his wife, telling CNN Business that he received the product, called French Lentil and Leek Crumbles, as part of a promotional package in middle of -Can.
“That’s what built them up to be a billion-dollar valuation company, all these influencers did the marketing for them,” he added. “At this point, it is the influencers who are warning the public that you could end up in the hospital if you eat this product.”
After consuming the product, Silverstein said: “I have never experienced pain like that – it’s the first time I felt a little helpless.”
In response to CNN Business’ several requests for comment, Daily Harvest posted the latest update the company posted on their website related to the voluntary recall.
“We want to make sure you have the latest update on our voluntary recall of French lentil + leek crumbs. We take this very seriously and do everything we can to get to the bottom of this. Your health and well-being is our highest priority. », It is stated in the blog post, and adds that it has reached out to affected customers and is taking a number of steps to investigate the cause.
“We are working with a group of experts to help us get to the bottom of this – which includes microbiologists, toxin and pathogen experts as well as allergy sufferers,” the Daily Harvest statement added. “All pathogenic and toxicological results have returned negative so far, but we continue to do extensive testing and will keep you updated.”
In an updated blog post on Thursday night, the company said that it has received approximately 470 reports of illness or side effects, and the investigation of the cause is still ongoing. It added that around 28,000 units of the recalled product were distributed in the United States between April 28 and June 17.
On June 17, the company first sent e-mails to people who received the product warning that “a small number of customers have reported gastrointestinal discomfort” after eating the crumbs and urging those who still had them to throw them away. It first issued a statement warning the public not to consume the crumbs on 19 June.
Launched in 2016, Daily Harvest’s emergence as a household name was largely linked to its aggressive social media campaigns. The company has received several celebrity supporters, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams (representatives of Paltrow and Williams did not immediately respond to CNN Business’ request for comment).
The meal-setting company announced in November last year that it had secured Series D funding that valued Daily Harvest at over $ 1 billion.
Silverstein said he spent time in an emergency room where doctors struggled to find out what was wrong. He tested negative for all forms of hepatitis, the first suspect, and took a series of blood tests that eventually indicated liver enzyme levels that were off the lists. He says that the levels of important liver enzymes were elevated as much as twelve times the normal range.
He spent several weeks not knowing the cause of the mysterious illness, before saying that his wife saw a post from other influencer Luke Wesley Pearson, a content creator from Portland. Pearson reported shockingly similar symptoms, he said, and the two realized that they had both received these crumbs from the company before they were launched on the public market.
Pearson told CNN Business that he underwent emergency surgery on June 12 to have his gallbladder removed after experiencing gastrointestinal problems after eating the crumbs.
Pearson says he tried the lentil crumbs twice, both times leading to intense abdominal pain. However, it was the second attempt that sent him to the emergency room. After symptoms that included “unbearable” abdominal pain, fever, chills, itching of the hands and feet, and jaundice, Pearson underwent tests that revealed – just like Silverstein – elevated liver enzymes, as well as high bilirubin. The doctors eventually decided to remove Pearson’s gallbladder.
For Pearson, it was only after seeing a viral TikTok by Abby Silverman that he realized that the problems could be linked to the food he ate immediately before the problems began. Silverman, a creative director in New York, posted a video that has received more than 100,000 likes on TikTok and describes her own experience after eating the Daily Harvest product. She said that the lenses similarly ended up in her emergency room, twice, with alarmingly high liver enzyme levels. While she suspected it could be from the crumbs, she said she formally linked her medical crisis with the lenses after an email from Daily Harvest on June 19 that remembered the food led her to a Reddit thread with many other people describing similar symptoms. Silverman’s lawyer, Mark Apostolos, confirmed to CNN Business in a statement that medical records document her illness and symptoms.
“It’s interesting because I’ve seen a lot of people on social media over the years try Daily Harvest, and that’s why I said yes to the PR package,” Silverman told CNN Business.
“This whole health situation has just caused so much anxiety,” said Silverman, who has retained a lawyer, Apostolos, to deal with the fallout. “Of course, I did not expect this. I made the video I made because I feel like they did not do enough to make people aware of what was going on – I realized that people probably still had this in the freezer. ”
“We are investigating and evaluating all remedies for Abby, who became ill after eating this product that was sent to her,” Apostolos said in a statement.
Another customer who had the gallbladder removed was Candice Smith, who told CNN Business that she first thought she had a heart attack after eating the product. “It was the worst night of my life,” said Smith, CEO of French Press Public Relations in Raleigh, the night she rushed to the hospital – where she says she stayed for four days and underwent tests on her enlarged liver and elevated liver. . enzymes. Her gallbladder was removed on June 19.
The company declined to comment on allegations that customers underwent gallbladder surgeries related to the product. All the people who spoke to CNN Business said that doctors were initially amazed at their symptoms.
Smith said she had no relevant medical conditions before the hospital visit. ‘I try to be healthy. I eat plant-based, I try to do all the right things, ”said Smith. “What am I doing here? Why am I here at all? Why am I experiencing this level of pain in my life?”
Caroline Sweet, a freelance actress and writer in Los Angeles, said she was in the emergency room after a CT scan after struggling days of being “completely doubled in pain” when she received an email June 17 from the Daily Harvest who informed her to throw away the crumbs and offer her a store credit of $ 10. (The company said in a blog post that all consumers were issued a credit for the recalled product).
“It was just like a big fucking you,” Sweet said of the email. “The fact that they just handle it so badly feels like such a big slap in the face.”
Sarah Schacht, a consultant and property manager in Seattle, said she similarly became “violently ill” after consuming the product that she said she was initially attracted to for its organic and health-promoting marketing. “Everyone on the Internet has been served Daily Harvest ads, right?” she said.
Schacht has been vocal on Twitter about encouraging people to take samples to local health departments or their Food and Drug Administration offices.
Silverstein, meanwhile, said he was incredibly appalled by the Instagram post Daily Harvest used to alert customers of the recall. The post, which was published on June 19, simply used a previous promotional image of crumble – and led people to click on a link for an “important message”, which led them to a blog post about the voluntary recall. At first glance, Silverstein said that most people would assume that the post promoted the product. Daily Harvest has since removed the post he referenced from their Instagram, which was considered insensitive.
The FDA told CNN Business in a statement that they can not confirm or deny whether there is an investigation that is not already listed on the site. “But the FDA takes serious reports of possible counterfeiting of a food that can also cause disease or harm,” an FDA spokesman said in a statement.
The agency added that when specific consumer guidelines can be developed, the FDA and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will publish outbreak counseling that communicates this guide to the public.
“I’m very angry because we are all left in the dark with no answer,” Pearson said. “I know that accidents happen all the time in the food industry, and I have just seen other companies that are completely transparent, speak loudly and make loud and clear announcements about what is happening and what the next steps are and what they found out so far. . ”
Silverstein added that he feels that some of the duty has fallen on influencers to warn his followers. While the company emailed customers and posted a statement on its website, he believes they should do more to make people aware of social media.
While he and his wife have been working with Daily Harvest for about five years now, and have never had any issues before, he said they have no choice but to “end our relationship with them.”