The Whole Foods Mouse in the Meat Case Case: a Halachic Analysis

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

THE INCIDENT

It happened in a Manhattan Whole Foods.  A customer looking in a meat showcase found a mouse nibbling on a fancy cut of veal in the meat section in the Columbus Circle location.

Britanny Ellis was the one who filmed it.  The video went viral with over one million hits.

According to ABC7News, Ellis remarked, “Next thing I know a lady behind us is like, ‘Oh, that’s disgusting,'” she said. “So then that’s when I look closer and I just see a nice little, tiny mouse just chewing away like nothing, and I’m shocked.”

Ellis told her mother about it, but her mother doubted the story – so she decided to video it.

Ellis said she tried to get the attention of employees at Whole Foods. Ellis let the butcher know, but he was confused about the situation.

“He’s like, ‘There’s no way,’ and then he looks in the cage and he sees and he’s like, ‘..this is crazy,'” she said. “So yeah, eventually his manager did come out. We did speak to the manager, but it was more of a like a nonchalant, not like kind of a let me get your information, let you know this is happening or no kind of transfer kind of situation.”

THE HALACHA

Our question, however, is what would be the halacha if this were kosher food in a kosher store.

This author would like to suggest that there are two relevant Gemorahs.

The Gemorah in Horios 13b lists eating foods that a mice bit from as one of the six things that are kasheh leshikcha.  It is unclear, however, whether it is just the area where the bite happened that must be cut off or whether it is the entire piece of meat. The Leket Yosher YD p. 6 rules that the entire piece is forbidden.   The Halacha is cited in the Be’er Heitev 170:12.

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There is another issue, however, that, in contemporary times, may make the issue a biblical prohibition.  It is forbidden to eat something that is disgusting.

The Gemorah in Makos 16b states,  Rav Beivai bar Abaye says: One who drinks from the horn of a bloodletter through which blood has passed violates the prohibition of: “You shall not make your souls detestable. (Vayikrah 20:25)” The prohibition is called bal teshaktzu.

The implication is that, at least regarding the horn of a bloodletter, it is a biblical prohibition.  However, since the Gemorah in Horios does not mention Bal teshaktzu – at that time – it did not necessarily constitute a prohibition of Bal Teshaktzu.

This may have changed, however, according to modern social norms.  It is this author’s view that most people, nowadays, would be thoroughly grossed out by the mice-bitten meat.

According to Rav Vosner zt”l in his Shaivet HaLevi Vol. VI #112, if one is personally disgusted by the food item, it is a biblical prohibition.  If, however, the majority of people in the country are disgusted by it, but he is not – then it is only a Rabbinic violation.

WHOLE FOODS REACTION

Whole Foods released a statement on the incident.

“We take this situation very seriously. We immediately removed and disposed of all products in the case, performed a deep cleaning, and brought in a third party service for a thorough inspection. The store diligently followed our detailed protocol in response and continues to work closely with our food safety team.”

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The author can be reached at [email protected]


1 COMMENT

  1. Should the “halachic analysis” include:

    Horayos 13b (Beraisa): Five things make one forget his learning – eating from what a mouse ate from?

    Kaf ha’Chayim (Sofer 157:28): …One should also avoid eating what a mouse or cat ate from, or drink water leftover from washing, for they cause forgetting, and due to Berachah.

    Divrei Chayim (YD 2:60): If a mouse ate from a food, the entire food causes forgetting.

    abi’a Omer (7): We learn from this that the entire loaf causes forgetting. It is not enough to scrape off the place from which it ate. Yosef Ometz (p. 273) says ‘people cut off the bit place and eat the rest. I don’t know if they have a tradition that this is what the Gemara means, or if they do so merely for cleanliness or due to disgust. One who is concerned for his Torah will not eat from the entire piece.’ Terumos 8:6 forbids Peros with holes (lest a snake ate from it). Yalkut Avraham says that the same applies to a mouse, for all rodents have venom, and it spreads throughout the entire food. This implies that the concern is due to venom. This is difficult, for R. Shimshon says that if something dry was bitten, one cuts away that place and the rest is permitted. Regarding mice, the Gemara did not distinguish dry from wet! Leket Yosher explicitly says that there is no difference. Rather, it is a Segulah (it is not based on something physical). We say that one who eats from what a mouse ate from, he forgets, and all the more so something that eats mice!

    Arvei Nachal (Reish Parshas Ki Savo): Devarim Rabah (Ekev) says that if one does not tithe properly, mice eat his grain. The Magen Avraham (Shemen Sason Bereishis) explains that one who eats from what mice ate from, he forgets. This explains “I did not transgress your Mitzvos (to tithe), and I did not forget.”

    Also:
    Leket Yosher (2 YD Amud 6): The Terumas ha’Deshen ate a food containing fat of a ox’ heart. If a cat ate from meat, he would not eat from the piece, and similarly for a loaf or meat pie. If a mouse ate from a piece of dry meat, he would not feed it to his children, even if it was a big Kikar. However, if a mouse ate from congealed fish, he would eat from different pieces.