Starbucks Sues Over Bad Ham

Customer complaints began in September 2010, saying the ham was discolored, had an unusual taste and appeared spoiled.

The Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks is suing Wellshire Farms Inc., and  Hahn Bros. Inc., for almost $5 million in a legal dispute over bad ham. In the suit that was transferred Monday to federal court in Camden, N.J., after being filed in July in Washington state, contends Wellshire was supposed to provide Black Forest ham for use in breakfast and lunch sandwiches, but instead supplied an inferior product from Hahn Bros. Wellshire rejects those claims and denies any wrongdoing.

According to the suit, a Starbucks contractor chose Wellshire's product after holding a blind taste test for a warmed breakfast sandwich in January 2008. Other contractors followed a similar process in selecting Wellshire's ham for a chilled lunch sandwich in the fall of 2009. The sandwiches, assembled by the contractors, were sold at Starbucks stores across the United States and Canada.

"Starbucks, however, did not know, and Wellshire failed to reveal, the fact that the ham with Wellshire's name on it was actually produced (by Hahn)," the lawsuit asserts. Starbucks contends it learned of Hahn's role only after a rising number of consumer complaints prompted it to investigate the ham's source, saying that complaints began in September 2010, with customers saying the ham was discolored, had an unusual taste and appeared spoiled.

Starbucks issued three "Stop Sell and Discard" notices for its breakfast ham sandwiches, issuing the final "Stop Sell and Discard" notice for all ham sandwiches after a third-party audit reported "fundamental deficiencies in the way the ham was being cooked and processed by Hahn." The coffeehouse chain then told its contractors to stop using Wellshire products and paid them an undisclosed amount "to minimize the financial impact of these actions." Starbucks asserts it lost more than $4.8 million "protecting its customers and Starbucks' reputation."

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