US plant-based food recall: tara flour pointed as cause of illnesses

After numerous reports of gastrointestinal issues and more than a month of investigation, the meal-kit delivery company Daily Harvest has identified the culprit that led to a recall of its French Lentil + Leek Crumbles last month: tara flour.  

Tara flour, one of the newest plant-based alternatives available on the North American market, is produced from the seed of the tara tree/shrub (Cesalpina spinosa), which grows in the mountains of Peru. The seeds, which can range from white to yellowish in color, are transformed into usable protein by finely grinding.  

The investigation - carried out alongside the Food and Drug Administration, doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, microbiologists, toxicologists, and three independent labs – is still going on to determine what specifically made people sick.  Daily Harvest said, in a public notice, that testing has ruled out multiple pathogens - including hepatitis A, norovirus, Listeria, and Salmonella -, as well as the most common allergens, pesticides, and a range of mycotoxins, including aflatoxins.  

Daily Harvest, which recalled 28 000 units of the crumbles, had received 470 reports of illness/adverse reactions which led to nearly 100 people being hospitalized.    

Jaydee Hanson, policy director at the Center for Food Safety, said “What we’ve seen is a lot of vegetable-based products having more and more problems. Some of it gets down to where the product is being raised”.  He explained that runoff from big animal production operations may contaminate vegetables grown in the near fields.