Sarah Schacht is part of a select group of people with the distinction of falling ill with E. coli in two separate outbreaks. First a victim in Seattle’s Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of 1993 at the age of 13, Schacht was sickened again 20 years later after dining at a Seattle Ethiopian restaurant tied to an E. coli outbreak in February of 2013.
And now nearly another decade later, Schacht may be part of yet another food illnesses outbreak.
“The funny thing is, the average for Americans is that they’re in a foodborne illness outbreak every 10 years. So, the good news is that I had one decade off,” Schacht told Food Safety News.
Harvest, a food delivery service, released a statement on June 19 recalling their “French Lentil + Leek Crumbles” after receiving customer reports of the products causing gastrointestinal issues. There has been a growing number of consumers reporting illness after eating the product over the last few weeks.
“The irony of being caught up in all of this with Daily Harvest is not lost on me. I want to be careful to say that, I’m still waiting for my lab tests. I’m still waiting on the testing of the Daily Harvest product. But I suspect, based on what I’ve heard from others, that I may be in this outbreak,” Schacht said. “Nobody with this outbreak knows anything for sure right now. And the company has not been helpful for that.”
The Seattle Native has been using Daily Harvest food service for several months. She started feeling ill sometime in May, experiencing two separate nights a week or two apart of severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Her stomach felt swollen and inflamed. “I still would continue life as best as possible. And then I would have, like, these random gastro events. They were really painful. There was one night where I was traveling for work and realized I might have to go into the ER, the pain was so severe. It was scary to be woken up by that much pain.”
Over the holiday weekend, Schacht received an email from Daily Harvest saying that they were recalling the “French Lentil + Leek Crumbles.”
“I immediately emailed them, and I said, have you guys identified what the pathogen is or what the cause of the illness is? And I got an auto response. It was the same exact email that had been sent to me before.”
Schucht tossed out the bags. “I opened up my compost and tossed the bags into the garbage.” But on Friday night, before receiving the email, she drank a smoothie from Daily Harvest. “I was like, I haven’t had enough protein for the day. I’ll have, like, a protein smoothie for dessert. So I grabbed one of their prepackaged smoothies and added protein powder and blended it and was violently ill the next day.”
“And I suspect, and I can’t know for sure, it’s my gut feeling, not to make a pun of it, that based on seeing all these other complaints online, this may not be limited to just one product. But I can’t prove that. It’s just my suspicion.”
The French Lentil + Leek Crumbles
“When you order stuff from Daily Harvest, it’s sort of like you set it and forget it and they just keep shipping you on a regular basis,” Schacht explained. “You’re living your busy life and eating through this stockpile of food in your freezer. I think I ate over two bags of it (the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles). Probably a bit more. The bags are like the volume of two to three individual chip bags.”
Schacht remembers being excited that around a month ago or two months ago Daily Harvest came out with two products called crumbles — a vegetarian protein product that can be added to your daily meals. “I’m vegetarian, I’ve been vegetarian most of my life. So, it was kind of compelling to have an additional protein item to put with my meals.”
“I think I was one of the first people to order it when it was available. Cause I just thought, oh, that sounds good to add to my meals.”
She tried different ways to cook the crumbles, but found that they never seemed to turn out as advertised. “It’s sort of like finely ground nuts and lentils and then spices and maybe onion or a little bit of vegetable mixed in. All of these are finely ground, and it has a bit of a wet texture. It’s crumbly, but also wet. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I’d already ordered it twice.”
“I cooked it in the pan. I also microwaved it – which I did for almost all the products I ever had from Daily Harvest. They were like, you can cook it multiple ways. It never occurred to me that they would send out this item without the ingredients already cooked. My impression was that it had gone through some kind of cooking or pasteurizing process beforehand.”
Schacht is waiting for multiple tests to come back, both to see what the cause of the illness was and what may be in the product. “I sent in the remaining product I had. I didn’t realize, but at the very bottom back of my fridge, I had one open bag and one sealed bag of the crumbles that I had missed when I had cleared out three other bags.”
Schacht is slowly recovering from these bouts of illness. About a decade ago, she started developing reactive arthritis responses from the second of the two E.coli outbreaks she was involved in.
“It’s an inflammatory response to all that my gut had been through, so I’ve had a lot of physical pain. I worked so hard in the last decade to reduce the inflammation. And diet has been a big part of that, and a lot of physical therapy to help manage and reduce inflammation. And now, I’m seeing some signs of reactive arthritis coming back. Which has been really discomforting.”
“The last couple of years, I’ve been in a good place. I’ve put in the work to be a lot healthier. I thought I was doing something supportive of my body – given my time constraints with work and life – by getting a product like Daily Harvest.”
“For folks in the food safety world who may be reading this interview, I should tell them, ‘Hey, I double-check the products that I received. And they were all thoroughly frozen. Like hard as a rock. I wasn’t concerned about spoilage.’”
She noted that with the exception of the smoothie, she cooked the food steaming hot.
“That’s the last month and a half or so, you know, my doctor and I have been trying to figure out what’s going on with me and, until the recall notice, never put it together, that it could be this that was causing me to discomfort.”
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