North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein likes to pursue consumer complaints. Recently he’s taken on the damages consumers can experience from robocalls. The latest complaint, however, is large enough to take the breath away of any state attorney.

The High Point, NC-based Puroast Coffee Company has filed a complaint with Stein, alleging that Starbucks coffee is adulterated with chemicals deceiving consumers by artificially changing the flavor of its coffee.

Spiked potassium levels do not present a traditional food safety issue. However, those with kidney disease could be harmed by elevated potassium levels in the bloodstream. The condition known as hyperkalemia can result.

An 8-ounce cup of coffee that contains, on average, about 116 milligrams of potassium is generally considered safe by the National Kidney Foundation. It recommends no more than three cups of coffee per day. However, undeclared potassium could potentially harm those with kidney disease if they are unaware of the excess potassium, asserts Puroast’s claim.

Starbucks has 28,000 retail locations in 76 countries around the world and its brand last year celebrated its 50th anniversary. Puroast has accused the Starbucks Corporation of adding high levels of potassium to some of its “100% Arabica Coffees” and not disclosing the adulteration to customers.

Starbucks began in 1971 with a single outlet in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. and grew into a global behemoth. Starbucks says the Puroast complaint is without merit, adding that its smaller rival claims on its website to have “7 times more antioxidants” and “70 percent less acid” than other coffees. Puroast may be looking to harm a larger competitor in its local markets, according to the Starbucks perspective.

Purcoast’s story is that Salem A. Ibrahim, Ph.D., discovered the high levels of potassium in bags of Starbucks Dark French Roast Coffee collected from area grocery stores in August. The Starbucks coffees were subjected to independent laboratory tests, which confirmed the presence of abnormal amounts of potassium.

Baseline amounts of potassium are normally present in coffee and other foods, but the levels found in Starbucks coffee far exceeded other national coffee brands and Ibrahim said they could not be statistically explainable as an organic deviation.

Puroast Coffee’s CEO Kerry Sachs claims Ibrahim’s findings “are conclusive.” Starbucks is adding potassium to roasted coffee, significantly altering brew acid levels and flavor. Sachs calls it “unprecedented deception by a national brand that has far-reaching implications for consumer trust of the purity of coffee.”

Sachs said it is well known that adding buffers like potassium to coffee reduces acids and bitterness. Coffee companies are required to disclose additives for flavoring or other non-coffee ingredients. “It’s hard to understand why Starbucks is doing this without telling anyone,” adds Sachs.

Puroast said it regularly monitors other brands in the market. The company was founded in 1986 with its original sales to natural food stores and coops in California. It is now available online via Amazon and through such retailers as Kroger, Publix, Ralph’s, Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, Market Basket, and Natural Grocer.

Attorney General Stein has referred the complaint to North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture for the state’s initial inquiry.

Meanwhile, in California, Starbucks won the dismissal of a consumer complaint that charge it with serving up maggots.

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