Food Safety Inspectors Found Moths in Coffee Storage Area at Meat Market Starbucks Reserve Roastery

By Arthur Z. Schwartz

STARBUCKS WORKERS UNITED UNION (SBWU) members. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has cited Starbucks for over 900 violations of federal labor law, making it one of the worst violators of federal law in modern U.S. history.

Food safety inspectors with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets found live meal moths, dead meal moths and dead meal moth larvae in the coffee bean storage area at the Chelsea Starbucks Reserve Roastery last week—including on the coffee bean packaging.

Inspectors found the moths the same day they found “mold like residues” in the kitchen’s ice machine—a central complaint of workers who have been on strike at the location for the last two months.

The findings were included in the inspection report the agency issued to Starbucks on Nov. 9, which the on-line newspaper, “The City” obtained in mid-December. The details in the report, and the meal moth sightings, had not been previously reported.

In addition to the meal moths, inspectors identified other “general deficiencies” including “moderate build-up of old food residues on food contact surfaces” like the matcha stirrer and the cappuccino nozzle and exposed roasted coffee beans in the retail area. The report described the conditions as “insanitary deficiencies that must be corrected without delay. The presence of these conditions may result in the assessment of civil penalties.”

Andrew Tull, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement to THE CITY that “the health and well-being of our partners and customers are our highest priorities.”

Starbucks Workers United of NY/NJ, the union representing Reserve Roastery workers, commented about the inspection report. Leanne Tory-Murphy, a spokesperson for union, wrote in a statement:

“The official report from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets inspection at Starbucks’ NYC Roastery just last week, validated workers’ claims of mold in the ice machine and on food contact surfaces, stating that it was a ‘critical violation,’ as well as serious pest issues, including finding meal moths and larvae in the coffee bean storage area. Workers should not need to go on strike for nearly a month over issues that should have already been dealt with by management to remain in compliance with basic health codes,” she added.

The 103 workers at the Meatpacking District flagship store, which boasts a bakery, cocktail bar and $17 cold brews, have been on strike since Oct. 25 following staff sightings of bed bugs in the breakroom and mold in the ice machines.

State regulators who inspected the Roastery on November 9, following an initial inspection on November 4, probed the store for four and a half hours, according to the inspection report. They did not find bed bugs.

Inspectors instead found three meal moths flying in the green coffee bean storage area. They also found “one dead meal moth and three dead meal moth larvae … on the exterior packaging of green coffee beans in the storage area.” They also found that a kitchen copper cooling pipe “is observed to contaminate ice for food service through dripping condensation.”

In both cases, the ice was “discarded and melted,” and inspectors instructed the coffee shop to “properly clean and sanitize the equipment.” Both the mold and dripping pipe were categorized as “critical deficiencies”—conditions that “may result in the assessment of civil penalties and other action provided by law including administrative hearing or court action.”

Two days after that inspection, on Nov. 11, the company’s labor relations director Andria Kelly wrote in a letter to the union: “There is no pest infestation or moldy ice at the Roastery—when the strike started or now—and we don’t understand why the union continues to assert falsely otherwise.”

Tory-Murphy, the union spokesperson, pointed to that letter in a statement, noting that the state inspection report “directly contradicts statements from the Company, made as recently as November 11th, despite their knowledge of the inspection and the resulting destruction of the ice, which asserted that there were not—and had not been—mold or pest issues at the Roastery.”

The striking workers have said that they will return to work once management provides proof, such as an exterminator report, that the store is free of mold and other pests. They say the company so far has not provided them with one.

Starbucks said in statement shared on their website on Oct. 27 the company had hired their own vendor to inspect the ice machine for mold and “found no noted operational or cleanliness concerns.” The company added it “made the decision to proactively upgrade and replace the machine with new equipment to improve the partner experience.”

From December 16-18, around 100 Starbucks union stores and over 1,000 union baristas, including workers at Starbuck’s Flagship Seattle Roastery went on strike. Workers made history when over 110 Starbucks stores and 1,000 baristas walked out on strike on November 17, 2022 in what was dubbed ‘Red Cup Rebellion.’

Yet, instead of listening to workers, Starbucks decided to escalate their anti-union campaign by closing the Broadway & Denny location, the first store to organize in Seattle, on the one-year anniversary of the first Starbucks union election win. Starbucks doubled down on their union-busting, so workers are going to double down their fight for a contract.

According to SBWU, there are now 270 unionized company-run stores counting almost 7000 union members, though the pace of new stores filing for unions has significantly slowed since the spring. SBWU sees the slower pace as a result of Starbucks’ “bullying” against baristas. Union members say the company has engaged in a months-long union-busting campaign with tactics ranging from differential benefits provided to nonunion stores to firing about 150 workers allegedly as retaliation for union activity, according to SBWU. Other complaints include short-staffing, health and safety concerns, poor management, discrimination against LGBTQ workers, unilateral changes to work hour requirements, selectively closing unionized stores and racism.

Perhaps most notably, baristas with the campaign say that Starbucks has not negotiated in good faith with the unionized stores as it is legally required to do. After first refusing to sit down at the table for months with more than a handful of stores, Starbucks then set up bargaining sessions with most locations, only to walk out in virtually every case, leaving after a few minutes.

Starbucks complained that the union was bringing in workers outside the store’s bargaining team. It also said workers violated NLRB rules by taking videos of bargaining and circulating them in some instances.

Starbucks denies the allegations of union-busting and claims that it is treating its workers fairly and is interested in good-faith negotiations. The company argues that it wants to work with baristas rather than be in confrontation with them. But the NLRB has cited the company for over 900 violations of federal labor law, making Starbucks one of the worst violators of federal labor law in modern U.S. history. As a result, not a single store has reached a contract.

The $119 billion company made almost $900 million in profits over the quarter ending in October.