Kosher-keeping coffee drinkers shared confusion and dismay on social media last week when a screenshot made the rounds suggesting some of their favorite Starbucks products lost their kosher certification.
To get to the facts, Kol HaBirah reached out to Rabbi Zvi Holland of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Rabbi Holland is a kashrus administrator and director of special projects for the STAR-K. He works closely with approximately 200 field coordinators, mashgichim (people supervising processes to ensure practices are in line with Jewish dietary law) and shochtim (ritual slaughterers) stationed in STAR-K-certified packing houses, caterers and manufacturing plants throughout the world. STAR-K has a page of its website dedicated solely to Starbucks products, including a chart elucidating the kosher status of products and special ingredients.
“It is true that Starbucks is changing the level of kosher oversight and compliance from the past,” Rabbi Holland said via email. “As of now, the first major change is that the kosher-friendly store program in New York and New Jersey is ending.” The program, featured at select stores, maintained a specific washing procedure for equipment and level of auditing, which expanded the kinds of drinks that customers could have and still be in compliance with Jewish dietary law.
Rabbi Holland explained that, unlike items that are produced for retail, the ingredients and mixes Starbucks uses are produced internally and do not have any kosher labels on them. What the STAR-K was able to do for a few years until now was verify whether facilities producing these items were in fact under acceptable local kosher supervision. Labeling their internally used packaging with what would have been any of dozens of different local kosher trademarks, depending on where an ingredient came from, was not on the agenda for Starbucks; but they were willing to provide the information the STAR-K needed to enable them to say with confidence what was and was not kosher.
“At this time, Starbucks decided that the cost of this program outweigh the benefits and has terminated the program, so we no longer have enough information to take responsibility for products without the customer actually verifying that there is a kosher symbol on those products,” he said.
This not only revokes the kosher certification of the popular Frappuccino beverage and caramel topping, but affects less obvious items as well—like the vanilla syrup used to flavor the whipped cream in some drinks.
However, the rest of STAR-K’s recommendations on Starbucks products have not changed since 2011, Rabbi Holland pointed out. “All of our recommendations for unflavored drinks have not changed.”
For anyone looking for a detailed list of kosher Starbucks products, “the STAR-K webpage on Starbucks is always up to date and the information will be there,” he said.
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor-in-chief of Kol HaBirah.