Starbucks Sued by Customers: One Suffered Allergic Reaction, the Other Served Cleaning Fluid

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Starbucks — the worldwide coffee chain — is being sued by two Connecticut residents: one claims the customer suffered a severe reaction despite warning the barista of her tree nut allergy, the other alleges the complainant was served cleaning fluid instead of coffee.

Sarah Rudolph ordered a chai tea latte with soy milk from the Norwalk Starbucks in Darinor Plaza on October 24, 2020. Her claim states she informed the server of her nut allergy but the beverage she received had traces of a nut-based ingredient, causing her to suffer an allergic reaction.

The complaint contends the store “failed to segregate the utensils, containers and tools used to make drinks containing nut products from those used to make drinks for customers with nut allergies,” and also claims staff was improperly trained.

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The lawsuit, filed last month in state Superior Court in Bridgeport, seeks damages in excess of $15,000.

A second lawsuit filed this month in US District Court, New Haven by Matthew Mitchell alleges he ordered coffee from a Starbucks on Greenwich Ave, Greenwich which was served to him with a lid.

Upon taking a sip from the cup, it “immediately caused a caustic, burning sensation in his mouth, throat and stomach,” the complaint states. “After opening the lid, to his sheer horror, Mitchell saw a blue chemical solution,” the lawsuit contends.

According to the complaint, the cup contained Urnex, a solution used to clean the equipment.

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The suit states that Mitchell was told by the store manager that a “new employee” was to blame for the apparent mix-up. The store had used an inverted coffee cup on the urn handle to indicate that it was in the process of being cleaned.

The complaint goes on to say: “It is unconscionable that a major company such as Starbucks, with extraordinarily vast resources, did not have a better warning system than an upside-down cardboard cup.” It also claims staff was improperly trained.

Mitchell alleges the incident required him to seek medical treatment when he suffered gastro-intestinal problems and “a lingering chalk taste,” as well as stress and anxiety from the incident.

Mitchell’s suit refers to similar incidents involving cleaning fluid that led to lawsuits in Utah in 2012 and in Idaho in 2015. The dollar amount being sought is “far in excess of $75,000,” and also seeks payment for medical expenses.

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It can be the Wild West out there, so in the interest of safety, here are some tips for ordering and consuming beverages safely when coping with a food allergy.

We encourage our readers to always lift the lid before consuming any beverage to ensure they have been served the proper drink and were not given another customer’s beverage (or cleaning fluid) by mistake.

Consuming beverages from an establishment where offerings contain milk, tree nuts, soy, wheat, spices such as cinnamon, and gluten among others can be problematic, as cross-contact — when an allergen is inadvertently introduced via contact with a surface contaminated with the allergen — poses a significant risk.

Should you decide to take the chance, we encourage you to speak directly with the manager, let them know that you have a severe allergy to one or more ingredients, and discuss whether your beverage can be made safely. If you feel the manager is anything less than certain you can be accommodated safely, leave.

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Watch your beverage being prepared to ensure that hands are newly gloved, clean implements are being used, and that your cup does not come in contact with any other surfaces.

Upon being served your drink, repeat your allergen concern and ask if the server is sure the drink is yours and if there might have been an opportunity for cross-contact.

Last, but never least, always make sure to take two epinephrine auto-injectors along everywhere, every time, and administer one immediately should you suspect anaphylaxis.

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Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom is CEO and "Blogger in Chief" of SnackSafely.com.

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