Food Babe Investigates: Sabotaged at Starbucks

This is a guest post from Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe) and New York Times Best Selling author. You can read more about her take on the food industry in her second book, Feeding You Lies!

Trying to get through the maze of what is offered at Starbucks can be pretty daunting – hopefully this information will clear up any nagging thoughts about what’s REALLY in their food and drinks. I couldn’t help but shake my head at the things I uncovered, which had me asking – how many times have people unknowingly gotten sabotaged at Starbucks?

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Starbucks was using crushed up bugs to color their Strawberry Frappuccinos. Luckily, they responded to the public outcry and eliminated that beetle juice. You’d think they would have taken the time to clean up the rest of their menu, but no such luck.

Did you know that Starbucks uses ingredients that are scarier than bugs and could even be harmful to your health? That’s where the real sabotage begins…

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Top 5 Ways To Get Sabotaged At Starbucks:

1. Coffee

You might think it is a bit radical to suggest not drinking their most prized ingredient that makes over 85,000 different combination of drinks, but it’s also radical drinking and paying a premium for coffee that’s ridden with potential toxins.

Let’s get real here, they do not actually serve organic coffee at most Starbucks locations, which means (like all brands of conventional coffee) it’s been sprayed with pesticides. We all know Starbucks coffee ain’t cheap, but most people don’t know that regular consumption of conventional coffee can be a serious source of pesticide exposure.

Starbucks coffee is grown all over the world in developing nations. The United States doesn’t regulate the type and amount of pesticides foreign countries use in their production of coffee beans, which makes consuming non-organic coffee on a regular basis pretty risky.

You could be drinking toxins from pesticides that are in fact banned here in the United States but not else where, like the pesticide Chlorpyrifos that is a contact poison. It has caused human deaths, and has been linked to birth defects. It is extremely toxic to birds, freshwater and marine organisms, bees, and other wildlife.

Furthermore, we know that increased exposure to pesticides are linked to birth defects, nerve damage and cancer. The President’s Cancer Panel has urged us not to consume food sprayed with pesticides and doesn’t believe any amount is safe.

And in regards to their decaf… did you know that conventional decaffeinated coffees are made decaf by soaking the beans with a chemical called ethyl acetate used in nail polish and glues and a carcinogen called methylene chloride?

2. Soy Latte (or anything else with Starbucks organic soy milk)

Logically, it makes sense to choose organic soy milk, since Starbucks decided to eliminate organic cow’s milk as an option a few years ago. But not so fast. Starbucks organic soy milk has one ingredient they would rather you not know about.

This ingredient was recently highlighted in a report generated by the Cornucopia Institute and echoed in a recent NYTimes article about non-organic ingredients allowed in organic food. One of those questionable ingredients is carrageenan, which is derived from seaweed and is in Starbucks branded organic soy milk. This substance is reported to cause intestinal inflammation and can be become a carcinogen once it is digested.

How such an ingredient became allowed in organic food is bigger than just Starbucks. However, companies ultimately make the decision to use or not to use these harmful ingredients.

Carrageenan can also be found in other Starbucks food and drink products including their cakes, scones, yogurt and Light Frappuccinos.

3. Baked Goods & Other Food Offerings

Sure, Starbucks made a commitment a couple of years ago to eliminate transfat, artificial colors, and high fructose corn syrup from their food products. They said they listened to us and responded.

However, I think Starbucks may need a hearing aid. Just because a company gets rid of certain ingredients doesn’t automatically make the food completely natural or “real”.  For instance, the Reduced Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake has over 75 ingredients!

Ingredients in Starbucks food products still include:

  • Refined FloursWhite flour that has been stripped of its nutrients and provides nothing but empty calories that contribute to chronic disease & obesity.
  • Chemically Derived Sugars – Some products like the lemon pound cake contain 6 different types of processed sugars (e.g. powdered sugar, glycose syrup, corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, etc.).
  • Preservatives – The Mayo Clinic reported that the preservative sodium benzoate (an ingredient found in the Iced Lemon Pound Cake) may increase hyperactivity in children. Also, when sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) benzene can form a carcinogen and kill DNA cells, accelerating aging.
  • Growth Hormone  Starbucks has eliminated growth hormone milk in their core dairy products, but not in their food products. That means you could be still be ingesting a substance that has been reported to cause breast, colon and prostate cancers.
  • Cellulose Gum – This a filler made from wood pulp your body can’t even digest.
  • Proplyene Glycol – This is an ingredient in the Apple Fritter and Reduced Fat Cinnamon Swirl Cake, which is derived from petroleum and a key chemical that is used to make anti-freeze.
  • Azodicarbonamide – This substance, found in Starbucks croissants, is banned in the U.K., Europe and Australia, and if used in Singapore can result in fines up to $450,000 and a 15 year prison sentence! This ingredient has been reported to cause asthmatic symptoms in people who inhale it and can also increase certain food sensitivities.
  • Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMOs) -Several of the listed ingredients are likely genetically modified. We’ll never know for sure how much of Starbucks products are genetically modified since they are currently not required to be labeled in this country. But we do know that the consumption of GMO foods poses a serious threat to our health and have been linked to toxicity, allergic reactions and fertility issues.
  • Cheap Oils  Soy, canola or corn oil can be found in almost all of Starbucks’ products. Over-consumption of these cheap oils are causing an abundance of Omega 6 fatty acids in our diets. The imbalance of Omega 6 fatty acids increases the risk of inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and prostate and bone cancer.

4. “Refreshers” Beverage

This brand new drink that just came out last week gives the allure of fresh and real, but it’s anything but. The ingredients are the same for both flavors of the refresher drinks.

What?  How can one taste like “Cool Lime” and the other one taste like “Berry Hibiscus” when they have both have the same base ingredients? Huh?  Looking at the two different boxes these “handcrafted” drinks came out of, the ingredients read:

Starbucks Refreshers Beverage: Water, Sugar, White Grape Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavors, Natural Green Coffee Flavor, Citric Acid, Erythritol, Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid E300), Rebaudioside A (Stevia)

Starbucks calls white grape juice concentrate (which involves heating the juice to high temperatures and adding some chemicals to get a more condensed product) “real fruit juice.”  

The only difference between the two drinks was the addition of freeze dried lime to one drink and freeze dried blackberries to the other. I guess that explains how they “handcraft” it.  McDonalds must also handcraft their burgers when they put the bun on them, huh?

It is interesting that Green Coffee Extract was not actually in the drink like they advertise. It is included in the refresher products they sell packaged in the store, but not in the version baristas make behind the counter. Is this their way of tricking us into buying a cheaper derivative of Green Coffee – just the flavor and not the extract?

When I realized that both drinks contained added sugar as the second ingredient and “natural flavor,” I immediately knew this drink was pure JUNK. Manufactured natural flavor is contributing to what David Kessler (former head of the FDA) calls a “food carnival” in your mouth.  This makes it difficult to stop eating or drinking because the flavors they have synthesized trick your mind into wanting more and more.

Starbucks doesn’t give us the full essence of a hibiscus or cucumber mint – just the best 1 millionth part of the taste – so we only want more of that product, which in turns fills Starbucks’ pockets. When companies use manufactured flavor, they literally are “hijacking” your taste buds one-by-one.

Please note, natural flavor is found in almost all of Starbucks products, not just this new drink. Their smoothies are also made with a product that comes from a box and contains juice concentrate with natural flavors and natural color as opposed to 100% real fruit.

I should also note that their mocha chocolate sauce, used to flavor many drinks and their chocolate smoothie, still contain high fructose corn syrup, too. They haven’t eliminated high fructose corn syrup in their drinks, only their food. This is yet another marketing trick Starbucks has played on us.

5. Frappuccinos

Did you know the CEO of Starbucks doesn’t even drink Frappuccinos? And I think I’ve figured out why. Frappuccinos are full of refined sugar, natural and artificial flavors, and a substance called caramel coloring. California recently included caramel coloring on its annual list of carcinogens that require warning labels.

This type of caramel isn’t the stuff you make at home by cooking sugar. This caramel color is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which creates carcinogenic compounds. Caramel color is classified into four different classes; Class IV being the worst and the one that is listed on the Starbucks Frappuccino label. 

Whether you choose the regular or light version of a Frappuccino, you are getting a dose of this known carcinogen proven to cause liver tumors, lung tumors, and thyroid tumorsin rats and mice.

When The Center for Science in the Public Interest studied two different brands of soda earlier this year, they found that both had dangerous levels of caramel coloring and could be contributing to thousands of cancers in the US. This prompted Coke and Pepsi to quickly change their formulas so they didn’t have to include the cancer warning label on their products in California.

I wonder what level of carcinogenic compounds a Frappuccino has, don’t you? Maybe someone should test it. I think it should be removed altogether from the FDA’s approved list of additives considering this substance is only added for cosmetic reasons and serves no real purpose!

Frappuccinos aren’t the only products at Starbucks that contain caramel coloring, the “Perfect” Oatmeal even has it! This is alarming to say the least, considering the oatmeal is one of the most popular and “safer” sounding menu items at Starbucks.

To quote Starbucks, “The most important meal of the day is the first. So why not make it nutritious and delicious?” I’m not sure if consuming carcinogens first thing in the morning is really nutritious, are you?

Despite all these ways in which Starbucks can sabotage me, I still like to use their free internet. Many of the stores now carry bananas, organic dried fruit, and some quality granola bars without synthetic ingredients that I would buy if I needed a snack. I always read the label no matter what I am buying just to be sure.

My favorite treat to get at Starbucks is absolutely free. They will give a cup of hot water to anyone that asks. Since I always carry a few extra bags of organic tea with me, I know I can always have a healthy beverage on the go from Starbucks for free anytime I like. I also like to use this free hot water option to make my own quick cooking oatmeal without carcinogenic caramel coloring!

But if you aren’t a tea drinker and are still clamoring for a Frappuccino, but don’t want to consume harmful ingredients…I’ve got a couple of recipes for you! Try my Homemade Organic Frappuccino with no refined sugars, artificial colors, flavors or carcinogens today or try Lisa’s Maple Mocha. Both of these recipes are so easy to make, you’ll never have to worry about getting sabotaged at Starbucks again.

Comments have been closed on this article, which was written by Vani Hari. If you have a question or comment you can reach her at

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261 thoughts on “Food Babe Investigates: Sabotaged at Starbucks”

  1. So Food Babe and 100 Days are not gaining financially at all by giving you this information? No ulterior motives to sell their book/recipes/websites?? Seems like someone always wins here and this is not just being done to “inform the public”. If your motives were really altruistic you wouldn’t try to SELL an alternative!

  2. Also they use artificial vanilla. I wanted to get a mocha, but the chocolate syrup has vanillin in it (so does the vanilla syrup.) So basically they use a bunch of cheap, extremely low-quality ingredients, but dress them up with fancy packaging and slick advertising, and charge a PREMIUM price for them. They LOOK and TASTE really good, because that’s what all of those chemicals are designed to do – make cheap lousy ingredients fool you. Fool you into hurting your health and paying big bucks for it.

  3. I like to drink a decaf mocha coffee from Starbucks, but can’t anymore because it instantly makes me feel sick and get anxiety. I am very sensitive to chemicals and I can tell Starbucks is full of them.

  4. So, apologies for the rant, here, but I have to echo the sentiments of John and Jason–this article is a classic example of somebody falling into the “they’re a big corporation, so they must be evil” mindset; this is counterproductive as it effectively penalizes a company even when they do the right thing. Starbucks is in fact *known* for their sustainable coffee sourcing practices (we studied them in my graduate program) as they go above and beyond what is required for organic. The issue with ‘certified organic’ is that the cost of the certification is usually born completely by the farmer. This process is expensive and lengthy and in effect excludes most small farms in the coffee-producing countries. Starbucks has instead assumed the costs associated with developing standards, educating farmers, and documenting the processes all the way down their supply chain. Their standards also include things like preserving biodiversity and conserving water resources (both very big deals given the steps involved in coffee production) while ‘organic’ is generally defined only as an absence of pesticides. Basically, they’re better than organic, they just don’t have a pretty sticker slapped on the side of the bag.

    It’s also clear that the author has done zero research on pesticide use and the end effect on coffee. Coffee production involves picking the berries, removing the flesh (in “wet processing” this is done with lots and lots of possibly-contaminated water) and then drying and/or fermenting the seeds to get what we call beans. After all of this processing, and being shipped around the world, they are then roasted at high heat, effectively denaturing any chemicals they may have absorbed during the growth process. If anything, if you’re trying to limit your chemical exposure, then I’d be much more worried about what the beans are exposed to *after* they are picked, not pesticides that may have been used on the outsides of the plants during growth. If you want to limit your chemical exposure, focus on organic choices for things like strawberries…not coffee. If you worry about pesticides because of their holistic effect on the ecosystem, then you should run, not walk, to Starbucks for beans, since their coffee is not only pesticide-free, but also grown using practices that support the whole ecosystem.

    Side note–for the love of god, can we stop this hysterical myth about Starbucks putting crushed bugs in things? Cochineal extract has been around since the 15th century and is a naturally-derived liquid dye. Yes, it is derived from the shells (just the shells) of the cochineal beetle, but to say that they’re “putting crushed bugs in things” is like saying that somebody in a pearl necklace has “a bunch of oysters around their neck.”

    Ironically, the company chose cochineal extract because they wanted to avoid using potentially carcinogenic things made in a lab (like red dye #40), but then they got jumped on for ‘tricking vegans’ in their role as ‘the big evil corporation,’ again. Can we start acknowledging the positive, if imperfect, efforts of companies instead of making ill-informed, knee-jerk statements like the ones in this article? Other companies looking at ‘journalism’ like this would be justified in thinking “Why even try?”

  5. What i think is hilarious, is everyone wants to attack big huge food related corporations for having GMO’s in their foods…. well I’m sorry it’s not Starbucks, McDonalds or even your grocery store you need to be lynching, It’s Monsanto. Do you realize that 98% of our soy beans grown in the US and in Canada are grown from Monsanto seeds? Think about it, if 98% of the soy beans, and soy is in everything from our food to feed for livestock, in the US are GMOs then what makes you think there is anyway a large company can be supplied with enough organic dairy to meet the needs of the public…they can’t not until Monsanto is stopped. You want to change things? You want all organic foods? Great, but go to the source of the problem. At this point any business that is involved with food is going to have items that have preservatives and GMO’s in them, it almost can’t be helped. The only way to ensure that you are eating completely organic is to grow your own and only go small restaurants, farmer markets and shops. But please stop attacking these companies about GMOs like they’re the culprit, go kick Monsanto’s ass then maybe we can change something.

  6. I got a reply today after I petitioned to CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Here is what I wrote back to their mechanical, yet friendly reply: “Thank you Amy F. from customer service [and Howard Schultz, with whom I addressed my original inquiry for replying.] Dear Starbucks I am grateful for your reply to my request for GMO free milk to be used in your coffee beverages and I would also like to add GMO free syrups. The truth is Starbucks may offer their customers options and informed decisions to a degree, but they do not allow full options of true whole foods, that choice simply is not available. The authentic cultural coffee experience is that of whole beans roasted artfully as a true barista knows by practice, and of course authentic organic milk which is free from the source of GMO feeds from the cows whom are graciously providing milk for the service of such a giant corporation such as you are dear Starbucks. How grateful we should be first and utmost to the creatures that provide such giving milk, may the farmers and corporations involved have the compassion to give these creatures the quality of life that they deserve as created beings and the organic feed that they need to live a nourished life, as well as, supplying healthful dairy products to the businesses that their milk is supplied to… and this is, simply, not what you provide dear Starbucks, you simply do not meet the bar! I dare say that you have the place, the position, as a coffee leading corporation to make a loud voice in our society and to lead the way towards authenticity. Many coffee companies cannot say, “Yes, we are fully GMO free with our products, our dairy and syrups and drinks and pastries” This is, in the full picture, a special experience to find. However, the movement is growing and more so “mom and pop” shops/small businesses are catering to the TRUE desire of the people whom seek authenticity in their daily cup of coffee and dining experiences. The small business owners are looking after the masses far better than larger influential companies such as yourself. I do not say that as an insult, I say that as an encouragement to jump onto the movement for pure foods and lead the way, be the special experience that you sought to be at the root of Starbucks’ beginning days! Can you imagine, if Starbucks, actually became the company it claims to be… can you imagine a company with as much power and influence that you have and all of a sudden we see a striking leader within the food and drink industry that shows forth true vulnerability and authenticity which brings forth whole foods and true quality of life within the edible items offered to the people. When did food become so fake? When did life become so artificial? How did we sell ourselves, our souls, to such mass quantity productivity to the point of accepting such waste. Waste to our future as we daily digest toxins into our bodies. We are what we eat and drink. May you be the ones who do not regret standing at the forefront of change. You are at the plateau of change right now and may you be the ones who raise the flag of love, peace and generosity and stand with the people on this one. Let us stand together for the future of truthful and life-giving food and drink. We CAN do this! We can say no to GMO’s in our food systems.
    – Mother, Teacher, Student, Activist Jenny Foster-Stewart

    1. If you want to really get change, you need to attack the source of all GMO products, not just the companies that sell products. Take your complaint to Monsanto, join March against Monsanto. You sitting here and writing Starbucks about not serving Organic Milk doesn’t change the facts that 98% of our soy beans in the US and Canada are now Monsanto crops, meaning 98% of all soy used in just about everything from our food to food for livestock (cow feed) is GMO soy. Do you not realize that for one national company to be able to offer completely organic foods, enough to meet the demand, would be impossible … there is no way that the 2% of actual non GMO feed cattle and soy is going to be able to supply all of us not to mention a national chain of any kind. So stop wasting your time if your a true activist, as you claimed to be at the end of your post, then find a March against Monsanto, and join the rest of us that aren’t brow beating a company for serving what they can, and doing better then many many many other companies, and find a March against Monsanto group in your are. If you don’t have one start one. Effect some real change instead of just reading an article that is two years old and acting like your doing something. Open your eyes people, The GMO problem is way bigger then just one company.

  7. WOW HOW DECIVING,is there nothing they would do for$$$$$$
    With no regard for the people WELL I AM TURNED OFF NO

  8. Jennifer Campbell

    I can clearly see this is an old article so aside from the food which has all changed I will address a few things here. First whoever told you there was supposed to be cucumber or mint in a cool lime refresher is an idiot the fruit in the picture is a slice of freeze dried lime not a cucumber and some people think they taste mint in it but no mint was advertised as part of the drink (as you pointed out) there is none. I used to work with a barista who would say that and I kept telling her to quit saying that since there isn’t any, it tastes peppery to me but there is no pepper, just because you think you taste something doesn’t make it so. Therefore you have a dumb as rocks barista or you are making assumptions. Second you can avoid the caramel color in Frappuccino by getting the creme base put in, yes I understand it shouldn’t be there anyway and it is a terrible ingredient but there is a way to avoid it. Next do you know the old saying “when you assume you make an ass out of you and me”? I know you are trying to make an assumption that Howard Schultz doesn’t drink Frappuccino because of the refined sugar but you should have just left that out,you are speculating. In the past you put up completely false information about what was in the mocha syrup that is used in the stores and you posted ingredients to a syrup that is sold on the website and has never been used in stores. You seem to only go so far in your “research” and when you think you have found a smoking gun you publish without making sure you have the correct information, again with the exception of the food which is all 100% different you have it wrong or have left out information. I am not saying many ingredients couldn’t use an overhaul because they could and many have gotten it.I think it is however funny that you post a picture of yourself at Starbucks and you don’t bother pointing out any alternatives or good products. Have you had the Evolution Harvest bars or nuts? I guess it’s hard to find the good alternatives when you are only looking for bad.

  9. Well, Stu who is 82 you’re lucky, because when we had our horticultural establishment and sprayed the ground we didnt notice until later that it was causing our son to have dreadful coughing fits (and a tic) and my husband thinks it has upset his digestive system for ever, breathing in these sprays – and they’re apparently used by Starbucks and their suppliers….

  10. I soon will be 82. I avoid sugars and thing’s that will turn to sugar. I’ve worked with chemical pesticides my whole adult life. I’m still alive and in great health. Plants produce pesticides to ward-off pests. You’ll not get away from these chemical’s simply be “going Organic”. The human body is a remarkable thing.. . unless allergies are involved, toxins within recognized tolerances, found in food, are routinely excreted. Actually, in the array of foods offered to todays consumers, as an overwhelming general rule, no one ever needs to be concerned about pesticides.

    Those using scare tactic’s to warn consumers of the dangers lurking in todays foods aren’t telling us about about chemicals, like aspirin, used responsibly in our everyday lives, will kill humans at a higher dosage . Many have died from acute aspirin toxicity. Here’s the clincher.. . most pesticides are safer [look it up on line] or as safe as aspirin.

    Relax .. enjoy your food!!

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