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Drink Starbucks? Wake Up And Smell The Chemicals!

Last week, I posted a new investigation into the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte and exposed how Starbucks makes it difficult for its customers to know what they are drinking. This is because:

  • Starbucks doesn’t publish the ingredients online.
  • Starbucks doesn’t publish the allergen information online.
  • Starbucks is inconsistent. We were given slightly different ingredients depending on who we spoke to at Starbucks.

I also broke down the complete list of ingredients in this popular latte, including caramel coloring that contains the chemical 4-Mel, which is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and National Toxicity Program. A 2-year government funded feeding study found that 4-Mel caused lung cancer in mice. The Center of Science in Public Interest and the Consumers Union (the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports) recently petitioned the FDA to take action to limit caramel coloring in soft drinks.  


This post quickly went viral, with over 3 million views on and 10 million views on Facebook in just a few days. I was incredibly impressed with your activism and how you fearlessly shared this post with your friends and family. You truly got the word out within minutes, and people were listening. This news spread quickly and major news outlets began reporting our story.

This morning I had the amazing opportunity to be on a very popular national TV morning show, Fox & Friends, which gave us a huge platform to continue spreading the word. In case you missed it, the video clip is right here below: (Can you guess my favorite part?) 


 Here’s some more national coverage that we received:

  • Entrepreneur, “Can a Food Blogger Force Starbucks to Change Its Pumpkin Spice Latte?”
  • USA Today, “One thing NOT in Starbucks’ pumpkin latte: pumpkin”
  • Chicago Sun Times, Food Babe takes on Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte
  • Jezebel, Not Even Starbucks Knows What’s In Your Pumpkin Spice Latte
  • WGN Radio, Food Babe: Starbucks needs to offer organic milk
  • Business Insider, “Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte Doesn’t Contain Real Pumpkin, And People Are Freaking Out”
  •, “There’s no pumpkin in Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte”
  • Medical Daily, “Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Uses Carcinogens In Its Caramel And GMO-Laden Cow Milk”

While all of this coverage was nothing short of amazing, much of it centered on how this drink doesn’t contain any pumpkin. 

The fact that it doesn’t contain pumpkin is the least of my worries.  

I have been investigating Starbucks for a while and wrote my first blog post about them over two years ago (in 2012): “Top 5 Ways To Get Sabotaged at Starbucks“, in which I revealed the not so “real” ingredients in some of their food and drinks, including: 

  • Caramel Coloring (Class IV)
  • Pesticides
  • Carrageenan
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Refined Flours
  • Chemically Derived Sugars
  • Preservatives 
  • Growth Hormone (in food products)
  • Azodicarbonamide
  • Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMOs)
  • Inflammatory Oils

At the time, obtaining this information was a daunting task. It took several emails and repeated visits to Starbucks locations to finally nail down the complete list of ingredients in their flavored coffee, espresso drinks and frappuccinos. To this day, Starbucks still does not publish their drink ingredients online or in their stores.  

One of my main concerns from the very beginning was their use of class IV caramel coloring.

Following all of the attention that my 2012 investigation received and after a national TV appearance discussing their ingredients, the Starbucks PR team reached out to me and invited me to their corporate offices in Seattle to discuss my concerns. I was pleased about this opportunity to begin an open dialogue with them that could lead to improving the quality of their products.  

During the next few months, I was carefully preparing for this meeting and outlining what Starbucks needed to do to improve their offerings to make the biggest impact. That was until I was blindsided in May of this year, when they suddenly retracted the invite because they thought the meeting wouldn’t be “productive”:

“I want to follow-up on your request to visit our Seattle office. After much consideration, my team and I have decided that a visit probably won’t be productive for either of us at this time. We’ve made tremendous strides in our food and beverage journey to ensure transparency and quality is at the forefront in everything we do. We are passionate and thoughtful about each product we offer to our customers, made with care each time. We’re not perfect, but we stand by our products and ingredients, believe in our brand and continue to make improvements along the way. I’d still like to be your point of contact for fact checking and any questions you might have – keeping a dialogue is still important and I hope you feel the same”.

I was floored that they would not agree to an open face-to-face meeting, and I asked if a phone conversation would be possible instead. I let her know I was extremely disappointed and that they haven’t answered many of our questions regarding their use of caramel coloring. I made it clear that my only goal is to create a better food system for all. Yet, they again refused to meet with me:

…we’re not feeling confident a visit to our offices or phone call will solve your interests.

And – she made a claim regarding their “safe” use of caramel coloring:

Regarding caramel coloring, we appreciate your feedback and want to assure you that in all instances where the color is used in our beverages, the level is well below the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) allowed by California’s Prop 65, regarded as a conservative evaluation system, and safe to consume.

At no time during our email exchanges did they indicate they were interested in taking caramel coloring out of their products and simply defended its use as “safe”. 

All this changed last week after the Food Babe Army spoke up. 

I was surprised, but obviously thrilled, when a USA Today reporter quoted Starbucks’ spokeswoman Lisa Passe last week saying they are “actively looking at phasing out caramel coloring“. Also – PIX11 News in New York reported that Starbucks has a “team in place” working on getting caramel coloring out of their drinks. Starbucks changed their position towards using this coloring in their products because of you and this is awesome news!  They also indicated that they’re working on listing core drink ingredients on their website. I reached out to Starbucks to confirm this information and asked them several questions:  

  • What’s your timeline for removing caramel color?
  • When do you plan to inform your customers of this change?
  • Do you plan on offering organic milk in your stores?
  • Would you remove carrageenan from your soy milk offering too?

They declined to provide any answers:

“We actually don’t have anything else to share at this time, but thanks for checking!”


Spill The Beans, Starbucks! What’s Your Timeline?  

  1. If your friends or family members are drinking Starbucks, please inform them of the truth. Take the picture above dissecting the ingredients and post it on your social media pages and keep sharing!
  2. Keep the pressure on Starbucks to announce a timeline and commit to taking caramel coloring out of all of their products. It’s unnecessarily used for cosmetic reasons and removing it should be a fairly easy change to implement. I can’t think of a logical reason (other than raising profits for Starbucks) on why you need to color coffee more brown in an opaque white cup!
  3. Removing caramel coloring will be HUGE, but Starbucks should step up to the plate and come clean on their ingredients. There’s nothing prohibiting them from listing core ingredient lists on their website immediately. Dunkin’ Donuts does it, so why can’t Starbucks?
  4. Ask Starbucks to set the bar and serve organic milk in all locations. This is a big priority, and they haven’t provided a statement or reasoning behind why they can’t add organic milk to their drink options. 

Contact Starbucks & Ask For A Timeline:

  1. Call Starbucks Customer Service: 1-800-782-7282. 
  2. Email Starbucks directly through their website here.
  3. Continue contacting Starbucks via their Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Also, if you saw the bogus Snopes article that came out last week trying to discredit this Starbucks investigation, check out my response to that here. The truth always prevails!

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into a Starbucks and order a drink without potential cancer-causing additives and to know exactly what you are drinking? None of these changes could become a reality without you and your unwavering determination to improve the quality and safety of our food. I hope that you all are as proud of yourselves as I am in you. Together, we can do this!

Sending you much love and respect,


P.S. If you are a new reader to, please sign up for my email updates, you’ll be the first to know about any future breaking investigations. 




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187 responses to “Drink Starbucks? Wake Up And Smell The Chemicals!

    1. Lauren- There’s so much going on with additives and chemicals in our food supply, Food Babe included, that frankly it is very hard to keep up. When I don’t understand what she’s referring to, I search both her site and internet to figure it out. Here’s one: Another one:

    2. Lauren , it has to do with the way carrageenan is processed. It is heavily processed with chemicals to make it usable as a thickener in a large variety of products. It is a carcinogenic and causes digestive issues.

      1. I used to have such horrible digestive gas. My stomach was always rumbling and I used to burp alot (thank God my husband has a sense of humor!). Well I gave up drinking almond & soy milks with carrageenan and it went away immediately! The more people I told, the more I realized that this is a really common complaint.

  1. Great job and activism. I really wish they’d offer organic drip coffee and organic milk. They need to have at least ONE organic coffee. Coffee doesn’t spoil right away so there is no excuse (like the ones they use for organic milk). Almond milk would be good too but at least organic drip. Com’on Starbucks!

      1. I was a Starbucks barista for several years. During my time there, they HAD a couple of organic coffees (Organic Shade Grown Mexico was DELICIOUS) AND they had an organic milk option. I remember when they changed all their milks. They eliminated the organic milk (they told us something about the reason being the high cost of employee consumption). So they’ve done it before. They know how. So I think that was around 2007-2008. I feel that organic options would be much more profitable for them now, as the light on the issues brightens.

  2. Caught your segment on Fox this morning…thanks for the info. Can’t they allow you a couple more minutes, or are they afraid of your revealing too much about their potential advertisers??????
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Haha – That’s how all morning shows are! Super quick stories. So appreciative I was asked to be on to spread the word.

  3. Hi Lauren,
    Carrageenan is natural/organic but it’s inflammatory. It is actually injected into lab rats to test anti-inflammatory medications. Do a google search – it’s pretty interesting. You will find it in almost all dairy products. I believe it makes the consistency creamier but is not good for you. Am I right, Vani?

      1. I’ve also noticed a lot of “healthy” organic almond milk products have carrageenan in them. Do they not know about it or what? These are products in Farmers Market stores such as Sprouts and Whole Foods.

  4. Thank you for all your hard work and getting this information out there. I told my Aunt about your article on V8, and the issue with it containing flavoring from meat. She was disgusted at how the food industry hides these things in our food and promptly threw out the two can she had with her. I gave her the V7 healthy recipe and she has vowed to start making her own.

  5. Way to go Vani. I just went into Starbucks Facebook page. I tried to leave a comment then tried to post on their page. At least for the moment, their page seems down or frozen.

    1. I posted on the Starbucks Facebook page when I first got the “no pumpkin in the pumpkin spice latte” newsletter…I was immediately attacked by TROLLS…wow…I was really taken aback by the virulence. Too many people are supremely disinterested in what they put in their mouths…or what comes out them.

      1. “Too many people are supremely disinterested in what they put in their mouths…or what comes out them.” LIKE–check

  6. It. Is quite a battle you wage against the corporate giants …… voni I wish you well …I think you will move on to bigger things soon … Remember your main goal and keep the preasure on . Hope you stay true and keep that beautiful soul …..Everyone wants you to succeed …..Your a shinning light in this dark WORLD mike

  7. So happy the word is spreading on your great investigating! This is the only way change will happen. So amazing that you’re doing this. It is so sad that they won’t offer organic milk, let alone organic coffee, and that they’re using unnecessary potentially dangerous additives just to make more money. Really sad. I hope to see them make a lot of changes quickly!

  8. Thank you, Food Babe! I go into my local Starbucks every day.

    I WILL NEVER buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte from them!



  9. Thanks for all of your hard work Vani. I have simply quit trusting these companies and make all of my own homemade treats and foods. I just can’t enjoy these food and drinks knowing these companies could careless about our health. I used to enjoy a Starbuck’s coffee if I wanted a treat, but not anymore. I appreciate your hard work because my sons are in their twenties and find it easier to eat out at times and knowing the good and bad really helps me guide them if they can’t eat at home. The FDA and USDA cannot be trusted since its all about the money, not our health, especially when they hire people from companies like Monsanto.

  10. Thank you, Foodbabe. I stopped drinking Starbucks frappe b/c it was literally making me sick. I have milk/dairy allergies. I wish Starbucks would change their overall ingriedents. I,too, wish they would offer alomnd or coconut milk, organic coffee, and organic vegan sandwhiches. I literally carry my own vegan sandwhiches and food into Starbucks when ordering their coffee. I will be on their facebook page. suggesting vegan food options and encouraging them to add organic coffee and almond and coconut milk.

  11. Hi Vani – I try to keep up on things related to diet, but did not know about the negative effects of Carrageenan – thank you for filling me in. About GMO labeling – as you know, the pro-GMO forces outspend the anti-GMO people by a wide margin and defeat GMO labeling laws. I’m thinking why not go about it in a different way – by trying to get those foods without GMO’s to put a “Non-GMO” label on their foods, and then boycotting all the ones without that. I think with all your followers, perhaps you could accomplish this. Perhaps a statement something like this: “the Foodbabe Army will be advised to boycott any food that does not contain a “Non-GMO” label on their product by the end of 2015″ (2015 to give them time to make the changes, although it really should not take that long). If that could be accomplished, perhaps we wouldn’t have to worry about mandatory labeling? If they stop losing business by not being able to label Non-GMO, perhaps they will finally phase GMO’s out.

  12. Thanks so much Vani for continuing to open our eyes and demand more from the food providers in our country! I am, and will continue to be, an avid follower of your blog and a portal for passing along your information to EVERYONE I know!!

  13. The solution is very simple to me. Vote with your dollars. Don’t buy their products. The profits being affected is the fastest way to encourage action. Even better find the guys who are maybe smaller and who will give you healthier products and support them.

  14. The power of one…. you sparked a flame that is burning brightly dear Vani. You actually have a powerful Army…. go get em.

  15. Unacceptable that an external watchdog has to tell corporate players how to play nice. I literally buy nothing at a grocer except personal tissue products. Any company that does not care about the well being of the buyers is an untrustworthy enemy. If they wanted to do things right they would have done so.They look for loopholes not positive solutions. It’s like thieving politicians and others who lean on the fact that the rules were followed so they have done nothing wrong, the rules that permit the thievery. Little children, before we contaminate them with greed, know it’s not right to steal, harm, poison, lie…………………………

    1. Hello and THANKS FOR ALL YOU DO! One question: Besides not going to Starbucks, how can we help get them to improve organic products??

      1. Thanks, Noel. We are lucky to have Vani carrying the torch. People of that ilk seem as scarace as the protest songs of the 60’/70’s. Our real support for the work of on the ground activists is our key to security. We don’t want to see them burn out and go away. The cash register and the suggestion box are two ways to reister our vote with corporate world. They have become accustomed to usmoaning and then going away with acceptance, fait de complete. Dictatorial countries that go to the expense of physically murdering their unhappy citizens could take a page out of the demogodic governments’ handbook,, ” Ignore, they’ll go away.” hah..

  16. I lived in France for a few years of my life and frequented the local Starbucks in Paris. I wonder if any of these chemicals are banned in Europe??

  17. You are just amazing and forever applaud all your efforts. I am doing my best to share it all. Continued success. My passion for health and educating the public goes back a long way and love you having this platform. Keep the energy going!!

  18. Thanks for what you do and not just with Starbucks. Being mildly allergic to soy, I can have a little dairy as the conventional feed for cows contain soy and it comes out in the milk (and eggs, meat, etc). Starbucks’ here in Seattle, at their headquarters store would not tell me if there was any soy in their Frappuccino drinks or whipped cream. I suspect there is because after taking a chance and purchasing one, all the same reactions came on. Soy is an allergen and in some cases as harsh as dairy and corn for others and should be revealed. I’ve made lots of dietary changes and also switched to organic beer because of your articles. Kep going!

  19. NICE JOB!!

    I love how the host says something to the effect of “people with allergies might have problems…” and then you help her out b/c she seemed to have missed the bigger issue “…actually, people who don’t want to get cancer won’t want this”

    YES!!! that was just awesome 😀

    Really appreciate all you do!


  20. Thanks so much for all your work! My eyes are definitely opening up. I look at bodega’s in Manhattan completely differently now. All chemicals and lies!

  21. I love food babe and thank you for this. I have food allergies and the fact that Starbucks doesnt disclose allergen information or any information on line. That doesnt work. I am a stand to eat clean and without all the stuff in our food. Thank you..

  22. I am so grateful for all the work you do. Thank you so much for keeping us informed & doing all this investigative work that the average person would not have the time, patience, diligence, or guts to take on. I truly admire you & I will be eternally grateful for all that I have learned & continue to learn from you. God bless you!

  23. I had stopped going to Starbucks about 3 years ago. I WAS a frequent visitor there, THEN, I began reading labels. They may once again have me as a frequent customer, but NOT just YET!

    Oh, and I DID love the Pumpkin Spiced Latte oh so much. I would go for it several times during the season. Nevermore…not until Starbucks changes their ingredients to healthful, truly healthful.

    Oh gee, I figure that Starbucks has LOST approximately SIX of my dollars for each visit probably 200 times a year. THAT, is quite a loss. AND if you believe in the TIP of the ICEBERG theory, then, my comment here, is just a bit of THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.
    Take THAT Starbucks! And change your ingredients!

  24. I have written Starbucks to ask that they use Swiss water-processed decaf coffee instead of decaf that has chemically treated. I was politely patted in the head and given a blunt NO. Why not?!

  25. I am suspicious of Starbucks pledging to list core ingredients in the future. “Core” is a hedge and could conveniently leave out a lot.

    1. Mary, I agree. ‘Core” means nothing. I wonder why anyone would want to hide what’s in their product. After all, if it’s all good stuff, wouldn’t they want it advertised?
      Oooops, maybe that’s why Monsanto and other GMO companies are banning labels.

  26. Thanks for the info!
    I just sent Starbucks an email telling them that I will only buy tea from them until you say otherwise. Plus, they should offer organic milk and stevia.

  27. I only buy organic everything. They go thru enough milk, there should be no issue with spoilage. I am able to purchase ground Organic coffee for the same price as the coffee soaked and raised in chemicals. I don’t even buy bulk amounts or grow it myself. I cannot imagine letting people, ignorant or caring purchase chemicals from my business all day every day. To me it’s unconscionable. I do not support, nor do my family and friends support Starbucks…and we used to.

  28. I hate how the Fox gives Vanni less then 4 min to educate the public on the crap chemicals in our food.

  29. Vani
    You Rock ! ! !
    Thanks for keeping us informed and for disecting food labels.
    Food Corp. don’t know who they are messing with, if we all stick together and spread the word good changes will come. God Bless

  30. Rec’d a reply asking what can we do besides boycott to persuade Starbucks and other food sellers to move to responsible healthful, organic, product. Early in my career partly in social activism I was fortunate to attend Saul Alinsky sessions. To make avery long story short, experience taught me that, know the enemy, ( because as soon as you are seen to be not on side you become their enemy), and move to the most expedient strategy to effect the maximum desired change in the shortest time. People don’t have life, health and safety to waste waiting. Short of that they placated, gave lip service, threw up all of the reasons why the changes were impossible. ” Can I quote you on that ? Good I wanted your permissioin before I went to the press.” Life can be simpler, safer, softer, flowing gently sweet aften; but my Gramps taught me that the path of least resistance makes men and streams crooked, their borders weak and crumbly. If first awakening does not spurr postive action then the flaw is known and will be defended. I quote a great living aged Sioux Chief in recent years addressing the United Nations, that great democratic body of big talk, after long look the otherway, do nothingness. ( Ask the opinion of the Syrian peopole on that matter.) When a corporate magnate responded to a plea for social justice for the earth, the CEO responded that his only responsibility was to profits for his shareholders. The old man countered , tears streaming down his face, ” But what will you tell your grandchildren ???” This earth is the only place we will ever have for home. The garbage in served by corporate food results in garbage out. The average , “fit” for service young adult has the degree of arterial degenerative disease documented in autopsies of a seventy year old. 12 year olds are undergoing bypass surgeries, in the most modern cultures on the earth. All degenerative disease is accelerated, with new acronyms being penned every day. Garbage in human body ecological pollution and destruction; garbage out pollution of the external ecology. We can live without Starbucks , IPOD, et des ilk, honest, I would not lie about this. And invading so called scary countries armed with rocks and sandals to throw at our ROBO Forces in order to take the resources the modern world thinks it needs and has an inherent right to., ( eg: North Korea owns the only vibaleand humungously vast deposit of the RARE EARTH MINERAL needed for NEXT GENERATION COMMUNICATION/ RECREATION DEVICES) But when the earth can no longer produce the food ,water and air we need for survival then we’ll realize you can’t eat money.

  31. Here’s what i emailed to Starbucks:

    Please listen to and adhere to the requests of “The Food Babe” Vani Hari who has been in touch with you about removing your cancer causing chemical ingredients in your products. I own Starbucks stock and am a Rewards member and regular customer. I know you do many great things from a business and employee treatment standpoint – I believe in you, so, please DO THE RIGHT THING.

  32. Great job vani because ofawareness you spread I always return hungry from Mall lol:-)
    keep this fight on.

  33. Thank you for all you hard work !

    Done with SB and all the games and BS – why not just list all the stuff
    that you want me to put in my body ?

  34. Great TV spot! Love seeing you on national TV spreading the word on Starbucks hiding their ingredients and all the fake ingredients in the other foods. Will you be in the Toady Show too?

  35. This information is amazing. An interesting thing about the pumpkin spice latte is that I always thought it did not taste natural and not at all like pumpkin flavor. I am glad you are exposing this and hopefully something will get done!!

  36. Like always, your work is commendable. My Family sure appreciates your hard work that you do for all of us. I have not gone or taken my Family to Starbucks since I read this shameless disregard for their clients. Truly appalling. They do such a nice job of hiring and training. Hats off to their marketing team also but we are out….

  37. Just have to thank you for the work you do and share with consumers. I read all your posts and take what limited action I can to support your work: not buy the products, share with my friends, sign Internet petitions!!!

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