Soylent's Food Bars Causing Food Poisoning?

Soylent Food Bar unwrappedConsumers report food poisoning; Soylent claims it's "food intolerance"

For Soylent, the makers of the liquid meal replacement drinks and nutrient-infused oils, the hits keep coming. Their newest product is under scrutiny from consumers and the FDA after people start reporting food poisoning symptoms after ingesting the new product, Soylent Food Bars. 

Consumers Report Problems

On discussions on Soylent's website as well as a couple Reddit threads, consumers have been speculating what may be causing the digestive issues, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The problems have been reported by a number of users for some time and the fact that Soylent refuses to make a recall of the bars and instead will offer to refund money to those affected, has many consumers concerned over the company's tepid response to the problem. Many of the bars that seem to be causing the issues came from one particular batch, 1966 14 JULY 2017, but while most seem to have come from this batch, there are other reports that these issues are still occurring with other batches. 

Solyent's Response

Rather than instituting a recall until the root cause can be determined, Soylent claims there is no evidence that their product has been contaminated after investigating the situation. 
In an official statement, the company stated: 

“After these reports, we have retrieved remaining bars from our consumers and have personally consumed many of the remaining bars without adverse effects. We have also sent them for further microbiological testing and all tests have come back negative. Based on this we remain very confident in the safety of the bars.”

Upon Further Inspection

If the bars are not contaminated, then that only further begs the question, "What is causing all these people to become ill after consuming the bars?" Soylent's initial explanation was of food allergies, but has since modified that to be listed as a "food sensitivity or intolerance". Basically, for one reason or another, the people affected by the problem have difficulty breaking down and digesting the ingredients in the bars, which results in digestive discomfort.
 
Food Bars do have quite the array of eccentric ingredients, including:
  • algal flour (flour produced from algae)
  • a sugar from beets called Isomaltooligosaccharide
  • soy derived from 3 separate sources
  • the artificial sweetener, sucralose. 
As of November 7th, 2016, Soylent announced that it would be removing the algal flour from all of its products starting early 2017. After investigating consumer complaints and reviewing their supply chain, they believe they have isolated the cause of the "food intolerance" to be due to the inclusion of this ingredient.
  
Meanwhile, Soylent's algal flour supplier, TerreVia Holdings Inc., responded in an apparent attempt to defend the safety of their product by saying that Soylent's products contain several more likely culprits of the digestive distress, such as soy protein isolate and glycerin, and believe these to be the true cause for consumer discomfort, not algal flour. TerreVia Vice President, Mark Brooks, responded to the Soylent’s explanation in an email by saying,
Our algal flour has been used in more than 20 million servings of products, and we are aware of very few adverse reactions. In no cases was algal flour identified as the cause.
 
Even though this explanation seems to satisfy those inside the company, it fails to do the same for their consumers who have reported the problem. Many feel that this response was slow and insufficient. Many have stopped purchasing the products from the company due to loss of trust. Some customer are even reporting their issues to the Food and Drug Administration in hopes of having an official investigation conducted. With Soylent now stuck between defending their product versus the opinions of one of its suppliers and the complaints of consumers, it still is unclear if the problem has been resolved at the present time.
 
Sources close to Soylent state that they have spent thousands of dollars on testing and have investigated each ingredient to ensure that their products are free from contamination. The facility is inspected annually by the FDA and its own independent food safety inspectors, with the most recent inspection being March 2016.

 

A Sticky Situation

Due to these quality control measures, Soylent feels confident that the problem wasn't caused by their processes, but the result of the inclusion of algal flour in two of their products and some people's difficulty digesting it. The question now is will consumers be willing to swallow this or has the ordeal left a permanent bad taste in their mouths? Only time will tell if this is an isolated incident due a select few individual’s sensitivity to one specific ingredient or if this is the tip of the iceberg that sinks the SS Soylent.

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Soylent's Food Bars Causing Food Poisoning?
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