Anyone who has read my second book, The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free, or has had the occasion to hear me speak about how to live a successful and happy gluten-free life, knows that when in doubt, I always advocate that folks contact manufacturers, restaurants and stores to verify the gluten-free status of their products or of their efforts to prevent cross-contamination. I make a determination of whether I will patronize an establishment or purchase a food product based upon what I learn from the company itself, and upon that company’s attitude toward me — a potential customer.
This is my opinion (you are free, of course, to disagree): when companies refuse to make any efforts to prevent cross-contamination, fail to implement a policy of segregation of food allergens, and refuse to be concerned about their “gluten-free” or “allergen-friendly/allergen-free” status, I do not believe that they want me as a customer, so I choose not to give them my consumer dollars.
So, when folks recently began emailing me to relate conflicting information about Starbucks retail chains, I decided that I would go straight to the source to learn Starbucks’ position on serving the gluten-free consumer. I frankly did not anticipate there would be any major issues, as Starbucks is primarily a retailer of beverages (most of which ought to be gluten free) and they had, at least in the past, shown an interest in serving the gluten-free consumer by offering gluten-free cakes and bars. Most, if not all of Starbucks’ baked goods are baked off-site, and they are displayed in enclosed cases apart from the beverages. Additionally, most of their coffees and teas ought to be naturally gluten-free, and whatever non-gluten-free flavorings may be used, they are not airborne, further diminishing the chance of cross-contamination. Nancy, over at GlutenFreeVille.com did a piece recently on Starbucks’ use of gluten in their “Light” Frappucino syrups, if you want to learn more about which of their beverages overtly include gluten ingredients.
Thus, my disappointment after this email exchange with Starbucks’ customer service (all correspondence quoted below):
Please clarify your position on the gluten-free status of your products (non-bakery items). I would like to be able to accurately relate your position to the gluten-free community, many of whom have received conflicting information recently regarding your products. Thank you.
Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company. Starbucks is unable to guarantee a “gluten-free” environment in our retail locations due to the potential for cross contamination with gluten-containing products. The open environment and operating procedures of our store locations may present additional risk for gluten-sensitive customers aside from the gluten-containing ingredients themselves.
If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know.
Starbucks Coffee Company
800 23-LATTE (235-2883)
Monday through Friday, 5AM to 8PM (PST)
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. Just to be clear, are you seriously saying that Starbucks corporate policy won’t allow you to say that your coffee is gluten free?
Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company. That is correct, due to cross contamination we can’t guarantee it.
In my opinion, if Starbucks was concerned about cross-contamination, yet was interested in business from the gluten-free consumer, they would contact the Gluten Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) - a program run by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America and partnered with AllergyEats - or the Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) - program run by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
Starbucks could then implement these program techniques for preventing whatever cross-contamination might occur in their retail stores, and affirmatively represent to our community that they want our business and are prepared to do what it takes (which shouldn’t be much, in their case) to earn it.
It’s not rocket science. Actual restaurants all over the country (making and serving both gluten and gluten-free foods) are trained and now serving our community safely. The fact that a coffee shop chain isn’t, shows me that they don’t care enough to do it.
Until then, I will be drinking my soy chai tea lattes elsewhere.