The coffee shop, in the famous Bank of China Tower, has been using the water from a tap in a lavatory to make beverages since its opening in October 2011.
The series of photos, reportedly taken at the chain’s Bank of China Tower location, appear to show a man retrieving water from a spout in a men’s bathroom a few feet away from a urinal and then using a container on a cart to transport it to the coffee shop.
The publication, which sent reporters to investigate after receiving a tip, noted that employees filter the water before brewing. It is believed that the practice has been occurring since the Starbucks first opened in 2011.
Naturally, customers have expressed their disgust and shock over the practice, prompting Starbucks spokesperson to come out with an explanation.
“Totally disappointed! The initial decision by Starbucks to use water from toilet is a clear sign of your company’s vision and the level of (dis)respect your company has for the health and mind of your customers,” Kevin L wrote on the Starbucks Hong Kong Facebook wall.
“I’m now really worried when I purchase coffee from Starbucks. Who knows which other stores are using the similar practice! Scary!!” he wrote.
However Starbucks spokeswoman Wendy Pang said: “There is no direct water supply to that particular store, that’s why we need to obtain the drinking water from the nearest source in the building.”
She added that the water goes through a thorough filtering process so as to ensure it passes World Health Organization standards before it is used to brew coffee. The company has issued an apology on the Facebook page of Starbucks Hong Kong.
“Please kindly accept our apologies for the concerns raised by the coverage on the water source at the Bank of China Tower store,” the message read.
“While the water used at that store was drinking water and certified as safe, we would like to clarify any misperceptions, as quality and safety have always been our top priority. We are now using distilled water to serve that store while we work with all parties on acceptable options.”
The water was collected less than five times a day by staff from a tap in a toilet located near the store, Starbucks commented on the matter, adding that it was dedicated for collecting drinking water.
Ben Cowling, an associate professor at University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, told HK Magazine that a filtration system may remove bacteria, but could miss viruses, which tend to be smaller in size.
“The issue that is more worrying is…the potential risk of transferring pathogens from the restroom environment into the Starbucks food preparation area,” he said
Cowling also expressed another concern: “If the staff need to frequently visit the toilet they may increase the risk of bringing other pathogens from the washroom into their food and drink preparation area.”
“I wouldn’t go to the restaurant in the first place if I knew they were having potentially risky hygiene practices,” Cowling said.