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Lawsuits allege Revive Superfoods smoothies caused illnesses

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Two New York state residents allege that the mango-and-pineapple smoothies they drank from frozen-food delivery service Revive Superfoods caused severe illness and led to hospital stays, according to separate lawsuits filed Monday against the company. Among the smoothie’s ingredients was tara protein, an additive that appears similar or related to the tara flour that vegan frozen-food service Daily Harvest has identified as the cause of sickness in hundreds of its customers. Daily Harvest, which is also facing lawsuits, issued a recall of its French lentil and leek crumbles, which contain tara flour, and the FDA is investigating the outbreak.

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Nadia Eletribi, who said she received the smoothies as a gift from a friend after having a baby, alleges that she was hospitalized three times after suffering from sharp stomach pains, a high fever and other symptoms. Daniel Cohl, who alleges he experienced chest and abdominal pain and nausea, spent three days in the hospital, according to his filing. Both are seeking damages to be determined at trial, according to the filing with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The Canada-based company, which markets its bowls, smoothies and soups as a convenient way for consumers to access nutritious foods, sold food that was “defective and unreasonably dangerous” and “contaminated by a substance injurious to human health,” the lawsuits allege.

Revive did not respond to emails seeking comment, and as of Monday afternoon, it had not issued any public communication on the matter. It no longer sells the mango-and-pineapple smoothies, according to its website.

After the Daily Harvest outbreak began drawing attention last month, Revive removed its mango-and-pineapple smoothie, which appears to be its only product containing tara. On Reddit and social media, people alleged that they had been hospitalized for pain and nausea and subsequently diagnosed with severe liver and gallbladder issues after consuming the fruit beverage.

Bill Marler, the food-safety attorney representing people claiming to have been sickened by both companies’ products and who filed the lawsuits on Monday, says he has about 300 clients with complaints against Daily Harvest and more than two dozen for Revive.

The ingredient at issue is derived from the seeds of the tara tree, which is native to South America. The Daily Harvest crumble listed merely “tara” as an ingredient on its label, but later described it as “tara flour.” Revive called its smoothie additive “tara protein.”

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The FDA did not respond to The Washington Post’s specific query about whether it was investigating the alleged Revive outbreak in addition to the Daily Harvest one. “Generally speaking, during ongoing outbreak or adverse event investigations, the FDA names ingredients or ingredient suppliers only when there is enough evidence linking that ingredient to illness or injury,” an FDA spokesperson said in a statement. The statement noted that the agency is testing samples of multiple ingredients, and cautioned that any investigation could rule out an ingredient as the source of illness.

“Sharing preliminary information on the investigation may mislead consumers in believing that a specific ingredient was the cause of an illness or outbreak when in fact it was later ruled out of being linked to an adverse event,” the statement read.

Consumer Reports senior food scientist Michael Hansen said it isn’t clear how similar the tara flour and tara protein are or if they are the same ingredient going by different names. But what is evident, Hansen said, is that food regulators haven’t determined whether tara products are safe to eat. “It doesn’t seem that anybody has looked at this,” he said. Consumer Reports last week advised people to avoid tara flour until more is known about it.

It doesn’t appear to have gone through the FDA, either through the agency’s process for approving food additives or through a system in which companies attest that an ingredient is “generally recognized as safe,” he noted. And little is known about the category. “It hasn’t been widely used in the food system in the U.S.,” he said. And tara doesn’t seem to be widely consumed in its native South America, where it is commonly used for tanning leather or for medicinal purposes. Tara might appeal to Western consumers as an Indigenous, plant-based source of protein, Hansen said. “But that raises questions — here is this plant, but they’re not using it for food — maybe there’s a reason for that.”