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Baltimore-based kosher certification company reduces number of acceptable Starbucks drinks

A Baltimore-based leader in kosher certification has said it can no longer vouch for Starbucks drinks with “syrups, sauces, toppings, powders, soy or almond milk.”

Star-K said this month that Starbucks ended an expanded kosher certification program with Star-K, and that the company “can no longer vouch for the kashrus of many of the flavored items previously listed.”

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While cappuccinos, espresso macchiatos, lattes and other coffee drinks are not considered acceptable under the new guidelines, Star-K maintains that some Starbucks drinks are kosher. Those acceptable drinks include Americanos, espressos, cold brew coffee and iced lattes.

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Star-K’s guidelines also state that some coffee drinks are acceptable to consume only if a person is away from home without kosher options available.

Rabbi Zvi Holland, who oversees Star-K’s certification of Starbucks, said that that recommendation relies on an 18th-century position allowing travelers to drink coffee even if it is made from completely non-kosher equipment. Holland said the “questionable equipment” sometimes used by Starbucks “is not nearly as severe an issue.”

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the company had ended a two-year pilot program in seven New York and New Jersey stores testing kosher-friendly rinsing of equipment.

“At the conclusion of the test, we decided to sunset the program,” the spokeswoman, Megan Adams, said in an email. “We are always evaluating programs that are locally relevant to our customers and in the neighborhoods where we do business and have nothing further to share at this time.”

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Adams said Starbucks brewed coffee and espresso are kosher without milk, although Star-K said that hot, plain coffee is not acceptable except when traveling. Adams added that many of the company’s packaged products are certified as kosher by organizations including the Orthodox Union and Kosher Supervision of America.

Holland noted that Star-K has only changed its guidelines as they relate to specialty drinks, not plain coffee.

Holland said that when Starbucks hit America “like a storm,” it was “cool for the kosher consumer because there was nothing really non-kosher in the store.”

Then, in 2011, the Seattle-based coffee chain began serving non-kosher sandwiches, leading Star-K to revise its guidelines and limit the number of drinks that could reliably be declared kosher, based on Starbucks’ washing and other practices.

In late 2015, Starbucks teamed up with Star-K to create a compliance program so that Star-K could observe the coffee company's practices and certify more items as kosher. Starbucks recently told Star-K that it is ending that program and the pilot program in New York and New Jersey, leading to the revised guidelines.

“I think Starbucks felt that it was a big commitment,” Holland said. “It’s hard for them stick to."

He said that while he wishes Starbucks would continue the program and is delighted by the thousands of signatures on the online petition, Starbucks is still “a great partner.”

“We believe our consumers have tremendous market impact … but there is no animus or compliance violations,” Holland said.

The Pew Research Center estimated in 2013 that about 4.2 million American adults practiced Judaism, about 1.3 percent of the U.S. population at the time. The same survey found that 25 percent of religious Jews keep kosher in their homes.

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