By STEVE BROWN
SEATLE -- The coffee chain Starbucks has sued two meat distributors for $4.8 million, alleging that it had to dispose of thousands of sandwiches because of spoiled meat.
In the suit filed recently in U.S. District Court for Western Washington, Starbucks claims that on three occasions in 2010, after customers complained that the Black Forest ham in their warm sandwiches tasted and looked spoiled, it found "potentially harmful bacteria" in the meat and threw out the sandwiches. It continued its business relationship with the supplier, Wellshire Farms of Swedesboro, N.J., until it learned the ham had actually been supplied by a subcontractor, Hahn Brothers Inc. of Westminster, Md.
At that point, Starbucks fired Wellshire Farms and initiated the lawsuit.
Zack Hutson of Starbucks Communications said the products were withdrawn "out of an abundance of caution" and the company is confident its customers were not harmed by the food in question.
A Capital Press request for comment from Wellshire Farms was not returned by press time.
Wellshire produces meat products free of preservatives, nitrites, nitrates and artificial ingredients, including bacon, sausage, dried Italian meats, hot dogs and deli meats. The products are sold online and at retail stores nationwide.
In April 2011, Wellshire Farms filed a lawsuit against Hahn Brothers and SK Food Group Inc., claiming the two contractors were responsible for the spoiled ham. That case was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Hahn Brothers is a wholesale meat processor and packer in business since 1918. SK Food Group, founded in 1943, is a Seattle-based food manufacturer with a diverse line of products.