Forest Whitaker Deli APOLOGIZES We're Not Racist

2/18/2013 10:50 AM PST

Forest Whitaker -- Deli APOLOGIZES ... We're Not Racist


The NYC deli that accused Forest Whitaker of shoplifting last week is blaming the incident on a "misguided" employee ... and insists race was absolutely NOT a factor.

TMZ spoke with a rep for the Milano Market ... where the Academy Award winner was publicly FRISKED after he was wrongly suspected of stealing an item.

The rep tells us, "The management of Milano Market deeply regrets the wrongful actions of our employee in stopping and frisking Forest Whitaker."

"While we can not delve into the employee's mindset, we do not believe that he was racially motivated in his actions, simply misguided."

The Market says it is taking steps to retrain employees so it doesn't happen again.

And there's more ... the rep says the store wants to reach out to Forest so it could make a donation to the charity of his choice, in an effort to make things right.

1:45 PM PT -- The shop owner just called in to TMZ Live to issue a formal apology for the incident.  He also said he FIRED the guy who frisked Forest.