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Starbucks withdraws new chicken sandwich over quality concerns

The Seattle-based company said it issued a voluntary “stop sell” for its chicken, maple butter and egg sandwich on June 26.
Image: A Starbucks chicken, maple butter and egg sandwich  that was recently taken off the menu.
A Starbucks chicken, maple butter and egg sandwich that was recently taken off the menu.via Starbucks

Starbucks has withdrawn a recently introduced breakfast chicken sandwich from its locations, saying Friday the seasonal item failed to meet its standards for quality.

The Seattle-based company said it issued a voluntary "stop sell" for its chicken, maple butter and egg sandwich on June 26. Any claims the item caused specific illness are simply false, Starbucks said.

Unverified reports on social media claim the sandwich made a few people sick. The crowdsourced website iwaspoisoned.com, which is dedicated to tracking foodborne illness outbreaks and credited with helping identify several outbreaks, logged five claims the sandwich made customers feel ill, at least temporarily.

"The quality issue that was identified by Starbucks would not lead to food borne illness and any reports linking the stop sale to illness are inaccurate," Starbucks said in a statement.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Starbucks said the agency has not issued a recall. Its database did not include any complaints about the item Friday afternoon.

Starbucks said withdrawing food products based on quality issues is not unusual or newsworthy, and that this was done "with an abundance of caution."

Bryan Hitchcock, a vice president at the Institute of Food Technologists in Chicago, said by email that Starbucks' relatively swift action to remove an offering that didn't meet its standards is "commendable."

Hitchcock said there are many facets to ensuring food is safe at the point of purchase.

"Ensuring food is properly cooked, distributed and stored under proper temperature conditions, correctly handled, and fully reheated are key food safety measures," he said.

Starbucks said that the sandwich was cooked, frozen, shipped, and then reheated for customers at its participating locations — a process that could shut out food-borne illness.

The item debuted alongside seasonal beverages on the first day of summer, June 21, and was taken off shelves five days later. It's a latecomer in the wake of chicken sandwich wars at fast food restaurants and fast casual eateries triggered by the successful rollout of Popeyes' version in 2019.

Industry publication Restaurant Dive reported the item is Starbucks' first proper chicken sandwich. Its rollout was part of a Starbucks revenue strategy to bolster beverage sales by enticing customers to order food.

During a May quarterly earnings call, CFO Rachel Ruggeri boasted of a 25 percent increase in food sales, describing the first three months of 2022 as "another record-breaking quarter of food."

Since at least 2017, Starbucks has set its sights on expanding lunch sales to fuel its revenue. That year it introduced a short-lived Mercato menu at hundreds of stores in the Chicago and Seattle areas.

It's increasing dependence on food is also bolstered by its focus on the car. In May, CEO Howard Schultz noted in that earnings call, the company projected that nine out of 10 of its new locations would include drive-thru service.