Meal-replacement company Soylent claims to have identified the culprit in a series of food poisonings that customers say left them vomiting and defecating for hours. Bloomberg reports that the company alleges a form of lab-grown algae is to blame, and has begun reworking the formula for its powder and bars — sales of both have been suspended — to exclude it.
“We are releasing new formulations of our powder mix and meal replacement bars early next year,” Soylent’s co-founder and CEO Rob Rhinehart told the publication. “Our new formulations will no longer contain algal flour.”
In the 1973 science fiction film Soylent Green, pollution and global warming have rendered the food supply unstable and forced humanity to farm plankton from the seas to feed an overcrowded planet. It is after that plankton-based food product, called Solyent, that the founder of the real life meal-replacement company named his powder and drink. It was perhaps fitting then that Soylent, which is basically SlimFast for tech bros, would run into trouble with its own ocean-based ingredient of algae.
Or, at least, that's what Soylent executives claim is causing the problem. The supplier of the algal flour, South San Francisco-based TerraVia Holdings Inc., denies that its product is at fault. “Our algal flour has been used in more than 20 million servings of products, and we are aware of very few adverse reactions," TerraVia Senior VP Mark Brooks wrote to Bloomberg. "In no cases was algal flour identified as the cause."
Besides the obvious gastrointestinal issues at stake, both TerraVia and Soylent stand to lose a lot of money depending on how this shakes out. Soylent is essentially now unable to sell its bars and powder until a new formula is worked out, and TerraVia could take a big hit on its stock prices if Soylent's claim is proved accurate.
But either way, all those die-hard Soylent fans need not worry — both the pre-mixed drink and Coffiest, the coffee-flavored breakfast drink, are still for sale. And algal flour or no, they definitely do not contain people.