Starbucks Sues Supplier Over Sandwiches That Had To Be Recalled Chainwide Three Times

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is going after a meat supplier that sold the coffee chain tainted ham for sandwiches, the Seattle PI reported.

The coffee giant said in a $4.8 million federal lawsuit that it discovered the bad meat after customers began complaining about the ham "being discolored, having an unusual taste, and appearing spoiled" in September 2010. Over the next three months, Starbucks issued chainwide orders twice to throw out sandwiches that had been made from the ham. After complaints continued, Starbucks ordered lab tests on the ham, which showed contamination with potentially harmful bacteria, and the chain permanently ended its use of the ham.

That move also came after Starbucks learned that the ham's contracted supplier, Wellshire Farms, was actually buying the ham from another vendor, Hahn's of Westminster. Both Wellshire and Hahn's are defendants in the Starbucks lawsuit, which was filed in Seattle.

The lawsuit also indicated that hot and cold ham sandwiches were treated differently by the chain. The hot breakfast sandwiches were pulled twice after the first September complaints, but there is no indication that cold sandwiches were dumped until December, after the lab test results. Those cold ham sandwiches remained for sale at Starbucks stores for 11 days after the chain ordered the hot sandwiches destroyed on Dec. 10. But Starbucks spokesman Zak Hutson said meat in the cold sandwiches was a different supply than that used in the hot sandwiches, though both came from Wellshire Farms.

As odd as the timing of the lawsuit may seem—this did all happen in late 2010—it may have to do with the statute of limitations for food-poisoning lawsuits. In roughly half of U.S. states, such lawsuits can't be filed more than two years after a food-poisoning incident. In Washington state, the period is three years. The chain might yet be hit with a class-action lawsuit from people in states where the statute of limitations has not yet expired.

For more:

- See this Seattle PI story

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