No one likes Starbucks coffee more than I. You might like it as much as I do, but it’s impossible to like it more than I do. My drink is a grande decaf misto if you’re wondering, and gift cards are always appreciated.
Now that you know where I’m coming from as a Starbucks coffee lover, what I have to say next may surprise you: I have serious concerns about its safety for allergic or gluten free customers. I was at the London Ontario Masonville Mall Starbucks recently, and as the light came through the window, I was alarmed to see that the entire counter surface is covered in spattered liquid. There are always at least 10 people waiting to order drinks, and about 10 people waiting for their drinks to be made, so cleaning must get pushed aside. I always notice with concern at every Starbucks that between orders, blenders are rinsed, not washed. This will not destroy allergenic protein.
I’ve seen stories about serious allergic reactions to their drinks, like this report of the death of a 8 year old milk allergic boy after drinking Starbucks hot chocolate. In this case as in most others I’ve seen, the facts about how the order was placed are omitted, and because several drinks were ordered, there’s the possibility that he grabbed the wrong drink. Another possibility is that this was a case of cross-contamination from contaminated surfaces in the restaurant or from the Barista’s hands.
Starbucks was already on my radar because of the sanitary issues I observed, but days later, something interesting happened. I received a call from a young man who is dairy allergic, who had a terrible experience at the Dundas & Richmond Street Starbucks location, right around the corner from my office in London, Ontario. He was in the store with his girl friend, and he asked the Barista to recommend a dairy free drink. She suggested a pumpkin spice latte made with soy milk. He asked if it’s dairy free numerous times, and she assured him that she was certain that it is.
After two sips, he had an anaphylactic allergic reaction and was in the bathroom vomiting. An ambulance was called, and he spent hours in the hospital. He had to take Advair for one week, but thankfully he made a full recovery. [Both of the cases I've mentioned contain potentially fatal errors in first aid care. To learn proper anaphylaxis first aid care that saves lives, take the online course at epipentraining.com.]
Coincidentally, when I observed the dirty surfaces at the Masonville Mall location, what I ordered out of curiousity was a pumpkin spice latte (I had never tried one, and I had a coupon). I disliked it and looked up its ingredients to find the source of its strong medicinal aftertaste. I found that the ingredients of the pumpkin spice latte are: Espresso, pumpkin-flavored syrup, steamed milk, sweetened whipped cream and pumpkin pie spices.
Source: http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/espresso/pumpkin-spice-latte Accessed 31 October 2013
Upon investigation, the customer who had an allergic reaction found out that the mix for the drink contains condensed milk. I found discussion about this in this article, which reports that Vegans who were ordering the pumpkin spice latte with soy milk and no whip were extremely upset to find out that they were unwittingly consuming dairy. Quote: “The mix for the drink contains condensed milk, but many Starbucks’ employees didn’t know that, so they haven’t been passing on the information to consumers. ” This lack of product knowledge is potentially deadly to the allergic.
If you’re on a gluten free diet or you must avoid an allergen, I would either avoid Starbucks entirely, or proceed with extreme caution. I would recommend that you check all ingredients yourself, but the ingredients lists are incomplete as they don’t list the allergens contained in their components. You may wish to stick with simple drinks like tea or drip coffee, rather than mixed drinks, or buy a bottled drink that you know is safe. If after doing your research you’re confident placing an order for something more complex, I would ask for surfaces to be wiped, the blender and scoops to be washed with soap and hot water, that fresh uncontaminated packages of ingredients be used, and that the Barista’s hands be washed. Failing to do so has been proven to be far too risky.
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