Coconut water first made an appearance in my life a few years after college ended. Back then, my friends and I were quick to hit up a bar. If not a bar, a local show that usually took place in a humid basement or club. Regardless of the outing, it typically ended around 11:30 p.m., and with supreme dehydration. According to ads and friends, coconut water — much like coconut oil around that time — was the miracle product that’d make me feel like I actually went to bed at 7:30 that night after eating a fresh bowl of assorted fruit. Holding coconut water up to such a high standard makes this story even more depressing. Instead of being hydrated, one woman who bought some VitaCoco ended up being absolutely disgusted.
Barbara Kline from Goshen, New York is no stranger to coconut water. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, she said it was one of her go-to beverages. “It’s all I drink, coconut water,” she said to BuzzFeed News back in 2017. “Well, not anymore.”
It wasn’t a problem with taste. Instead, something was lurking inside of her beverage that turned her off of it forever — mold that resembled an octopus tentacle. Even without seeing it, you can just tell it’s disgusting.
But for good measure, here’s a photo.
You might want to shield your eyes from here on out if you’re easily grossed out. There’s more mold ahead.
Suffice to say, Kline did share photos. And, she’s not the only one. It seems like plenty of consumers have been having similar issues with the beverage. It’s just a bigger issue for Kline since the mother-of-two has a mold allergy. Since she accidentally consuming the mold, she experienced diarrhea, vomiting, and an asthma attack.
Upon the first swig, she said she felt chunks.
Usually, that texture sensation is enough to make you spit out your beverage.
“It tasted very thick and syrupy,” she told Buzzfeed News. “It was disgusting.” When you’re familiar with a product and it tastes so off, it can be quite alarming. She even made sure she grabbed the unflavored version of the drink because she could immediately tell that something was seriously wrong.
She also said that her beverage made noise.
As you know, liquid shouldn’t sound clunky when shaken.
That caused her to investigate. And, that’s when she discovered the absolutely disgusting mold. “I took a knife and opened it up and that’s when I discovered those octopus-looking things,” she said, mentioning that she vomited soon after. (Wouldn’t you?) It’s impossible to even know how she mustered the courage (and the strong-enough stomach) to take photos.
Unfortunately, this seemed to be a huge problem.
It wasn’t the case of Kline accidentally grabbing a drink that was well past its expiration.
People went on Twitter to showcase their own mold. It’s a good thing that her story went viral since it caused a lot of people to investigate their VitaCoco products and prevent illness. But the weird thing is that VitaCoco didn’t seem to address their concerns through social media whatsoever. Does that mean that they felt like it was acceptable?
They did, however, address it through a statement.
They claimed that it was mold, and it wasn’t likely to cause a health risk.
“It is highly unlikely what this consumer claims she found in her Vita Coco poses any health risk,” Arthur Gallego, Vita Coco’s global director of corporate communications, said in a press release. “Vita Coco is a preservative-free beverage made from naturally-occurring ingredients. While the consumer has yet to return the product for testing, this looks like typical food spoilage.”
It seemed a bit dismissive.
It’s possible that at the time, they felt like this was a one-off case.
“We produced over 135,000 units in this production lot and this was the single complaint, and one we cannot investigate because of the consumer’s lack of cooperation,” Gallego continued. Obviously, they hadn’t checked their Twitter mentions around this time, since it wasn’t just Kline who had a mold issue.
VitaCoco supposedly wanted to have Kline send them the mold to test.
But, Kline didn’t think that was such a good idea.
That’s where the “lack of cooperation” comes in. But for Kline, she feels like she’d be sending back the only evidence she has regarding the mold, and felt as if it wasn’t a smart idea, possibly even entering the territory of deception. Especially since she had plans to escalate this a little more, based on the fact that she got sick over their product despite following all of their safety regulations.
Kline wanted to sue the company.
And, she had all right to. As someone allergic to mold, they could have caused serious damage.
The concept of a lawsuit was new to Kline, so it’s not like she’s inspired to sue people all the time — she just wants some closure over what happened. “Money is nothing to me right now. My health is more important to me,” she told Buzzfeed News. “I’m in it for clarification and to know if I just inhaled or drank something that’s deadly.”
This wouldn’t have been VitaCoco’s first big lawsuit.
The first one wasn’t as serious.
Back in 2012, VitaCoco had to deal with a $10 million class-action lawsuit after people felt as if they were deceptive over their nutritional claims. Keep in mind, I did view it as a miracle product around that time — so, maybe they were onto something. Turns out, the product wasn’t as hydrating as many of the ads made it seem. The mold seems slightly more serious in comparison.
Unfortunately, there’s been no news about it since.
Kline is presumably okay, and VitaCoco is still around.
But, they lost a big customer. And if Kline didn’t raise her voice about the mold, people may not have known. Even if it’s said to be safe to drink, consumers shouldn’t be drinking it — especially since coconut water is often on the expensive side, in terms of beverages. The outpour of support proved that Kline was onto something.
For them to brush it off and make it seem as if only one container had this issue was preposterous.
If one container has mold, there’s always the possibility of more.
It’s not always about user error. Kline mentioned that she’s very familiar with the product, and even remembers hearing it click open when she initially went to drink it. That means it wasn’t tampered within the store or in the factory — the squid-like mold just grew inside of it. It might be a PR nightmare for VitaCoco, but making it seem as if this was Kline’s problem to fix wasn’t the right solution.
This may have turned you off of coconut water forever.
You’re always taking a risk when you’re drinking something that isn’t in a clear package.
These days, my personal go-to has been Vitamin Water Zero. With a clear recyclable container, you can get a good idea of what’s in there before actually downing it. No offense, coconut water — but, those photos are enough to turn anyone off for good. Especially because there’s an even bigger problem here.
But big fans can just be a little more cautious.
If the company says it’s not harmful, you have to trust them.
It’s not right, but it’s not the end of the world. Next time you buy, maybe stick to another brand. Or, try shaking it first to see if you hear anything alarming. As with all food, you should also check the expiration date. It won’t guarantee you a mold-free experience, but at least you can take precautions if the beverage has been a daily part of your dietary routine.
Because, the mold issue hasn’t officially been solved.
Even in 2018, people reported mold on Twitter.
And as per usual, VitaCoco seems to be ignoring the issue. Many times, they’re not even releasing a canned response to worried people. That means that they probably don’t think the occasional mold mention isn’t all that damaging to their company. Even though the PR statement seemed to brush the issue off, they did seem confident in their claims.
Remember, one of the most hydrating things you can get? Regular water.
And tap water is free!
Tap water might not be as exciting, but most tap water is safe — depending on where you live. It’s also necessary for survival, which is yet another plus. If you buy a clear, reusable water bottle, you’d also be doing a favor for the environment while being able to make sure nothing gross is blocking your goal of hydration.