(VIDEO IN EXTENDED ARTICLE)
The Johannesburg Beth Din has accepted “full responsibility” following the shocking discovery of more than 20 Treif chickens in the kitchen of Stan & Pete caterers which were being prepared for use. On Erev Purim, the Beth Din removed its Hashgacha from the establishment, which was the largest Kosher caterer in South Africa, and was operating since 1975.
In statements, (ATTACHED BELOW) both the Beth Din and South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein expressed shock and dismay at being let down by the caterer who was trusted by the community for so many years. Both pledged to make changes to its Kashrus methods to ensure this would not happen again. The Beth Din added it was considering litigation against the caterer in criminal court over the beach of trust.
Rabbi Goldstein said the Beth Din had been aware of rumors about Stan & Pete “for months”, but despite launching a rigorous investigation the Beth Din “did not uncover evidence to corroborate the rumours”.
Nevertheless, he said the Beth Din was cautious and conducted extra inspections and surveillance, which resulted in the shock discovery. In a statement issued on Shushan Purim, the Beth Din explained “one of the Beth Din’s senior inspectors” discovered “a batch of more than 20 Treif chickens”.
Neither the Beth Din nor Rabbi Goldstein detailed the rumors they had been investigating, and did not elaborate on if they believe the discovery of Treif chickens was a one time occurrence.
In a video message to the community, (ATTACHED BELOW) Rabbi Goldstein said in light of the scandal, the on-site Mashgichim will be employed by the Beth Din, as opposed to the proprietor, the individual caterers or restaurant.
Food establishments under the Hashgacha of the Beth Din will now be equipped with surveillance technology. A pilot program had been in place for months, but rabbi Goldstein said that will now be given the fast track and is expected to be in place within two weeks.
Additionally, Rabbi Goldstein said he will be establishing a forensic department within the Beth Din “to augment the ability and capacity to investigate any areas of concern.”
Stan & Pete owner Jeff Shull issued a statement to the SA Jewish Report on Wednesday, saying his company “takes full responsibility for the failure in processes and controls, and a full investigation is being conducted”.
“As a result, a decision has been taken to close operations for a period of time.”
He said that all suppliers, processes and staff would be investigated and audited to try to get to the bottom of how this came about. “There are numerous unexplained issues and we would like to get to the bottom of them.”
He also told the SA Jewish Report that Stan & Pete had never purchased chickens from “non-approved suppliers” and had “no knowledge of how these chickens came to be in the kitchen”.
“At the time of the inspection, there were hundreds of chickens on the premises, including chickens that had been donated for a large function. It is interesting to note that at this time, only the 22 chickens which were alleged to be treif were defrosting, and were all that was visible in the kitchen.”
He added that management found it “strange” that the senior inspector specializing in chicken “who had not visited the premises for about a year, happened to walk into the kitchen to do a spot inspection at the very time when the offending chickens were in plain view”.
Shull’s statement suggested that its kosher licence had been stripped without the company being “afforded the opportunity” to conduct its own investigation.
Ami Bolnick of Tenderchick – the only certified producer of kosher chickens in Johannesburg – was called in to inspect the offending birds last Wednesday.
Bolnick explained to the SA Jewish Report that the most obvious distinguishing sign is the bird’s wing tip. In a kosher chicken the wing tip is cut away so that the salt used in the koshering process is better absorbed. “These birds’ wing tips were intact,” he said. The neck flap is also cut away for the same reason in a kosher chicken, and this too was intact.
He said the coloration of the bird differs due to the salting process, adding that a non-kosher bird had a paler look.
Tenderchick said every chicken leaving their slaughterhouse is recorded, and all bags are sealed with a special Beth Din seal which goes onto a Beth Din register. Only the mashgiach can open and lock the sealed fridges. When the birds are being transported, the trucks are also sealed. Each time the truck stops, a new seal is used and recorded by the mashgiach. A while ago, the Beth Din did away with the silver clip on the wing that was another safeguard mechanism.
Bolnick said he had noticed that Stan & Pete’s purchases had “dropped substantially”.
Rabbi Goldstein concluded his remarks with the following statement: “This has been a difficult time for the community. Our sages teach us that in times of difficulty, we need to introspect and transform a crisis into an opportunity for growth and strengthening.” As a community, he added, “we will emerge stronger from this”.
The Beth Din, he said, stands at the center of the South African Jewish community and “we should pull together to unify ourselves and go forward into the future”.
(Nat Golden – YWN)