One of the most popular and beloved brands in the organic food industry, Harmless Harvest, surprised us with a Christmas gift that none of us wanted to receive – news that it has temporarily halted the bottling of its prized coconut water.
If you go to the company’s website, there is a long letter from the new CEO, Giannella Alvarez, eloquently saying many different things including that:
We have recently received a letter from the FDA requesting we comply with additional quality criteria to ensure consumers receive an added layer of product quality and safety from delivery into their hands.
The letter from the FDA said that there were serious violations of the company’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan and that “spores of Clostridium botulinum have demonstrated the ability to germinate and grow in low acid juices (such as coconut juice), producing toxin.”
According to the World Health Organization, Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that produces dangerous toxins (botulinum toxins) under low-oxygen conditions, which can result in death.
In retrospect, this news about Harmless Harvest is not a huge surprise. Why?
The FDA seems to be spending a lot of time these days scrutinizing unpasteurized coconut water.
Exotic Superfoods, a raw, non-HPP coconut water brand that imports its products from Thailand as well, also has had trouble with the FDA and for a similar reason – concerns about botulism.
IF AND WHEN IT WILL RETURN
What is important to note is that any Harmless Harvest coconut water that is either currently on supermarket shelves or already in inventory has been deemed safe by the FDA. The FDA has not issued a recall nor has it declared that these products have been contaminated.
Since this is a new category, the FDA appears to be taking a precautionary stance here in regards to future production, and the company says that it is making the necessary adjustments to go above and beyond what is required by the agency.
As such, any disruption in the supply of Harmless Harvest coconut water will happen if the company runs out of its current inventory and bottling has still not resumed yet. Given the popularity of its original coconut water, one could expect to see this flavor run out of stock well before some of its other flavors, such as the coffee coconut water.
With the completion of a new round of financing and the recruitment of a very experienced senior management team (co-founders Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud have since moved into product development roles), Harmless Harvest appears to be in a strong position to weather this storm. Yet, the stoppage of bottling could last well into 2016.
CEO Giannella Alvarez has said that she expects the company “to be back up and running for the busy summer months”.
Given this matter with the FDA, is Harmless Harvest a product that I would still consume?
After all, there has been no recall and there has been no contamination.
Furthermore, I have known co-founders Justin Guilbert and Douglas Riboud for several years now, and I firmly believe that these are two people who would not cut corners when it comes to the safety of their products.
For those of us who are huge Harmless Harvest coconut water fans, let’s hope that this issue gets resolved as soon as possible.
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