back to top
Tech

Soylent Recalls Its Bars After Reports They Made People Violently Ill

The company is offering customers a refund and asking them to discard any bars they still have.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Soylent, a Silicon Valley startup that makes powdered and liquid meal-replacement supplements like Soylent 1.6 and 2.0, has temporarily stopped selling and shipping its Soylent Bars after reports that they made people violently ill.

Soylent said customers can receive a full refund by contacting the company; if you have any remaining bars, you should discard them. The company is investigating the bars' safety but told BuzzFeed News it had not determined a cause yet.

In a prepared statement, Soylent wrote, "We are deeply sorry if any customer had any negative experiences after eating a Soylent Bar." The company called the recall a "precautionary measure." Soylent previously told BuzzFeed News that it was "very confident in the safety of the bars."

The bar, introduced in August 2016 (coincidentally, the same month as Samsung's recalled, exploding Galaxy Note7 phone), provides 12.5% of a person's recommended daily nutrients, according to Soylent. It may also provide nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, according to complaints from people who have eaten it.

Soylent has faced quality control issues before. As recently as October 2016, it delayed shipments of Soylent 2.0 because of mold. The 10,000 square foot facility that produces Soylent Bars, Betty Lou’s in McMinnville, Oregon, has not undergone a foodborne biological hazards inspection since 2014, two years before the bar was launched, according to the FDA’s online inspection database (The FDA's database covers inspections from October 1, 2008 to March 31, 2016). Soylent says the facility's last FDA inspection was in March 2016. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the FDA for comment on this discrepancy.

Betty Lou's claims, however, that its latest inspection, conducted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) on behalf of the FDA, was on January 6, 2016. In a copy of the January report supplied to BuzzFeed News by Betty Lou's, the ODA found only that a concrete wall behind some sinks had "accumulated organic growth/mold," a minor violation.

Betty Lou's facility is separate from the ones that manufacture Soylent 1.6 and 2.0. Back in 2014, the FDA for the first time classified the Oregon facility as VAI, Voluntary Action Indicated — meaning an inspection found "objectionable conditions or practices," but not ones serious enough to require mandated action. Betty Lou's and Soylent began working together four months ago, according to Bety Lou's.

In a prepared statement, Betty Lou’s would not directly address the problems with Soylent bars, but denied responsibility. “We do want to assure all of our customers that the issue being mentioned on some reporting sites [about Soylent bars] did not originate from our facility,” the statement said.

Sources close to Soylent's manufacturing process previously told BuzzFeed News that the complaints about the bars might be due to a sensitivity to sucralose, an artificial non-caloric sweetener commonly found in products like Quest Nutrition Protein Bars and Powerbar Reduced Sugar Bars. There is three times as much sucralose in Soylent’s bar (about 30 milligrams) compared to the Soylent 1.6 drink powder. At this time, Soylent has no plans to dial back the amount of sucralose in the bar, but it may re-formulate in the future.

Philip Neustrom, who experienced two bouts of nausea and vomiting after eating the bars, told BuzzFeed News that he regularly eats Quest Protein Bars, which also contain sucralose, with no negative effects.

In a previous statement, Soylent told BuzzFeed News, "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."

Reports of illness first emerged on Soylent's own community discussion board on Sept. 7, 2016, when user Raylingh started the thread "Nausea and vomiting several times after eating food bars." Soylent consumers piled in on the thread, including two who had reportedly needed trips to the emergency room after eating the bars. All told, 57 people reported troubling experiences with the food bars. Soylent users on the Soylent subreddit also complained of the same symptoms.

Raylingh told BuzzFeed News he consumes Soylent 2.0 every day and has never had an adverse reaction to it. He also said that daily reports of Soylent-Bar-induced illness started appearing on Soylent's forums in late September. He said he had to "chase down" Soylent customer support for three weeks after his initial complaint for the company to start investigating the bars. He's kept a spreadsheet of the complaints.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include Betty Lou's statement and information about its January 2016 inspection.

Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Blake Montgomery at blake.montgomery@buzzfeed.com.

Nicole Nguyen covers products and personal technology for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Nicole Nguyen at nicole.nguyen@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.