Kosher Status of Starbucks a Complicated Web of Issues for Consumers

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Baltimore MD…The recent pushback by the Star-K Kosher Certification agency about the kosher status of Starbucks brought to the fore the complexity of certifying a large food chain with thousands of locations all over the world. According to Rabbi Zvi Holland, Director of Special Projects for the Star-K, there was an abundance of goodwill by both the company and kashrus officials to make Starbucks products available to the thousands of kosher consumers who enjoy the pricey beverage. Indeed, many of the products sold in Starbucks stores were kosher certified. But apparently the process of filtering out the good apples from the bad apples, kashrus-wise, became too complicated for both the company and kashrus agencies. The Star-K which has been working with Starbucks for several years to address kashrus concerns and even set up a pilot kosher program in 6 stores, announced recently on its website that it can no longer recommend many of Starbucks drinks to kosher consumers, due to the coffee company’s decision to end a joint program to help kosher adherents consume the Starbucks products. “Please be advised that Starbucks Corporation has decided to end the expanded Star-K kosher information program… the Star-K can no longer vouch for the kashrut [kosher status] of items previously listed that do not bear a reliable kosher symbol,” the agency said on their website. “This includes Frappuccino’s and all flavored drinks.” A listing of kosher products appears on the Star-K website.

Rabbi Holland said that Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, the Rabbinical Supervisor of the Star-K, had come up with many creative solutions that would address the kashrus concerns. Many rabbis and agencies like the Orthodox Union were never enthusiastic about kosher consumers buying coffee and other products at Starbucks stores. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the COO of the Kashrus Division of the Orthodox Union, explained that the stores sell many non-kosher products and that there is a great deal of comingling utensils and cookware in dishwashers. A petition on calling for Starbucks to reinstate the partnership with the Star-K is approaching nearly 10,000 signatures. Many consumers flatly predicted that while the Starbucks stores might be off limits for now, we have not yet heard the last word from both the company and ultimately from kashrus officials.

Several rabbis reached by Kosher Today say that while Starbucks is by far the largest chain of its sort, others like 711’s which sell Slurpees or Dunkin Donuts are also examples of chains that have courted the kosher consumer. Kashrus agencies like the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc) provide kosher consumers with complete listings of Slurpees kosher products. Dunkin Donuts stores, say kashrus officials, may be less problematic since they use a chemical cleaning process rather than dishwashing. Yet, some rabbis warn that when Dunkin Donuts stands are part of a multi-brand set-up, all bets may be off especially if common dishwashing is practiced. But there was some good news recently for kosher coffee users in that the LA  based Coffee Bean & Tea Company is planning a comeback in New York and other locations,  offering kosher consumers new options for kosher coffee houses.