Story-ideas-1011172

SA Featured Item

Behind the stripping of Stan & Pete’s kashrut licence

  • jeff
The discovery of a batch of unkosher chickens in Stan & Pete’s kitchen last Wednesday has resulted in an urgent overhaul of the current kashrut systems and how the Beth Din moves forward.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Mar 08, 2018

The Beth Din is conducting a full-scale forensic investigation into how these chickens got into the kitchen of one of the country’s pre-eminent kosher caterers. Stan & Pete has been operating since 1975.

Because of this scandal, the Beth Din is to fast-track a new programme to help improve and modernise kashrut supervision systems at kosher establishments.

Also, in future the on-site mashgiach – a kosher supervisor – will be employed by the Beth Din, as opposed to individual caterers.

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein said yesterday: “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 centre of the South African Jewish community and “we should pull together to unify ourselves and go forward into the future”.

According to the chief rabbi, the Beth Din was made aware of alleged kashrut irregularities taking place at Stan & Pete “a few months ago”.

“Rumours were brought to our attention,” Goldstein told the SA Jewish Report. However, after launching a rigorous investigation into the rumours, 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 last week’s shock discovery.

“We have been very transparent about the facts,” he said, having notified the community as soon as the kashrut scandal came to light.

In a statement issued two days later, the Beth Din explained what had happened when “one of the Beth Din’s senior inspectors” discovered “a batch of more than 20 treif chickens”.

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 specialising 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.

After the discovery last Wednesday, four Dayanim were summonsed by the senior inspector and arrived at the caterer’s Orange Grove premises.

According to witnesses, Shull was nowhere to be seen and when he was eventually confronted, he shook his head and said: “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Ami Bolnick of Tenderchick – the only certified producer of kosher chickens in Johannesburg – was called in to inspect the offending birds last Wednesday.

He “immediately” saw a number of obvious “tell-tale signs” that the defrosting chickens were not his birds.

“Being in the chicken industry since 1989, I can objectively distinguish between a kosher and a non-kosher chicken. This I did,” he said.

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 colouration of the bird differs due to the salting process, adding that a non-kosher bird had a paler look. Contrary to popular belief, size is not an indicator, he said.

“I took eight of my own birds from the abbatoir, broke the kosher seals in front of them and compared: it was like chalk and cheese,” he said.

Tenderchick has two shochetim – ritual slaughterers – at the abbatoir and a full-time mashgiach who work 11 hours a day each, following rigorous kashrut protocols. They are employed by the Beth Din.

Every chicken 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 for every bird slaughtered, he paid R5,38 to the Beth Din. A 1.2kg bird cost about R60. He said he had noticed that Stan & Pete’s purchases had “dropped substantially”.

Stan & Pete was started when two hotel school graduates, Stan Smookler and Pete Arnold, decided to open a catering company. It grew from humble beginnings in Jeppe, Johannesburg, spreading its wings to the Jewish Guild and then Beaconsfield, and more recently to Orange Grove.

Soon after opening, Dennis Cohen joined the company, followed by Norman Whiteman, who joined for a while before emigrating to New Zealand. Smookler, Cohen and Whiteman steered the fledgling company in the so-called good old days to its heyday, when they could have up to seven functions a day on a busy weekend.

Ido Sirton and Jeff Shull bought in several years ago. This saw the exit of Smookler, with Cohen staying on as an employee.

Cohen, who left the company over two years ago, said this week: “I mourn for the loyal staff, some of whom have been there for 30 odd years.”

Smookler declined to comment this week, saying that he was busy assisting replacement caterer Riva Flax with the Miracle Drive after Stan & Pete were pulled off the job.

Insiders have suggested that the legendary catering company has become a shadow of its former self, having lost market share in recent years. Its staff complement has also dropped, they said.

It is understood that a number of caterers have been hard hit by the downward swing in the economy.

The chief rabbi said yesterday that nine months ago, the Beth Din started looking at ways to modernise the current kashrut supervision systems by involving the use of technology, cameras and other structural changes.

These ideas were presented to industry players in September last year with a view to implement the changes sometime this year. In February, the Beth Din installed a pilot model, which it found to be successful. Because of the Stan & Pete scandal, implementation of the new model is now being fast-tracked. It is expected to start being rolled out in the next two weeks over a period of a few months, he said.

“We have been driving efficiencies for 18 months and we’ve decided to fast track them,” said the chief rabbi.

“New steps are being taken to establish a forensic department within the Beth Din to augment the ability and capacity to investigate any areas of concern.”

He explained that there are over 100 mashgiachim in Johannesburg who have all received rigorous training under the auspices of the Beth Din. They have to prove that they’ve mastered the skills and knowledge, he said.

South Africa is not alone. Incidents of this nature have occurred recently in Jerusalem, New York, Frankfurt and California, each time sending ripples through the community. But in South Africa, it is particularly painful that it took some treif chickens to cause the demise of a 40-year-old institution.

8 Comments

  1. 8 Louis Joffe 08 Mar
    Hi.I do not keep Kosher,but am shocked for those that do.I hope this is not about money.louis joffe
  2. 7 Debby Myers 08 Mar
    The kosher chickens offered here in Cape Town are so disgustingly dirty - takes me an hour per chicken to clean and remove feathers - enough to make any kosher meidel buy the beautifully cleaned but non kosher chickens at Woolworths!!!
    Perhaps the Beth Din should apply their minds as to how to get the kosher chickens cleaned properly as they are everywhere else in the world!!!
  3. 6 Rafael 08 Mar
    Well written article and well done to the Chief Rabbi for moving ahead with modern technology. Shull in my eyes is as guilty as sin. He clearly bought non Kosher chickens as they are much cheaper than Kosher and has for a long time knowingly deceived the Jewish community and even non Jewish who buy Kosher meat. His comments sound rehearsed and full of no remorse and he says "...for the failure in processes and controls..." yet there was no failure in controls: it was controls and processes that caught this deceptive man. The failure is in his moral judgement.
  4. 5 MIchael Levy 08 Mar
    With the kind of lies that are being told here, maybe the management could apply for employment in our government.
    Bitterre gelechte.
  5. 4 Kalman 09 Mar
     The only people at fault here is the Beth Din, we as a community rely on the oversight and audit of the Beth Din, they take R5.38 per chicken!!! No wonder the price of kosher food / chicken is so high, but they take this money and we pay for the feel good that the meat / chicken is kosher. How dare the Beth Din allow this and fob it off at the bottom of the article Oh it happens everywhere else so we ok?
  6. 3 Monica Solomon 09 Mar
    I have one thing only to say to Rafael and Michael Levy - have the decency to wait until a full investigation has been conducted before claiming that Stan and Pete are guilty.  And if Mr Shull is found guilty I will condemn him with the rest of you - until then it is only up to our Maker to judge him.
  7. 2 Anne Lapedus Brest 11 Mar
    I would like to think that an explanation by Stan and Pete will be forthcoming,  because I find it so hard to imagine how any operation could stoop SO low as to deceive the entire community.. Many stories are flying around, and yes, innocent until proved guilty,but I find it impossible to understand how someone can own a business and then say he has no idea how 20 Treif Chickens got into the kitchen..   Surely there are Invoices?  someone bought and paid for these birds.   Someone collected them.     This has put me right off eating anything  fleishig for the time being 
  8. 1 Asher 12 Mar
    My Shull is not just implying in his statement that his company was not afforded the opportunity to investigate this issue themselves - he is insinuating that these chickens were planted in his kitchen by someone connected to the beis din and that the inspection of his facility by the senior inspector was orchestrated  to strip his license and prevent him from operating in the Jewish community.

    That is a very serious thing to insinuate.

    Mr Shull - let's clear this up quickly...

    Make your order books and receipts public - show the community how many portions you have catered each month over the previous few years and  let's compare that to the number of chickens you have purchased from tenderchick. 
    If your numbers indeed correspond (and they can be compared to ratios from other caterers) then we the community can believe you that this is indeed just an irregularity and not fraud on your part.
    If you can show that the number of chickens you purchased from tenderchick over the years corresponds to the number of meals you produced and that you have never purchase chickens from any other source, then someone else will have to answer how these 20-odd chickens got into your kitchen without payment being made to a non-kosher supplier or anyone in your establishment being aware or involved.

    By the look of it you were caught red handed - it took the beis din a long time and much luck to catch you out, so don't try shift the blame now.

    If you are blameless it should be pretty easy to prove that you are and you won't need to insinuate anything about the beis din.

    Either put-up or shut-up.

Comment

  1. RadEditor - HTML WYSIWYG Editor. MS Word-like content editing experience thanks to a rich set of formatting tools, dropdowns, dialogs, system modules and built-in spell-check.
    RadEditor's components - toolbar, content area, modes and modules
       
    Toolbar's wrapper 
     
    Content area wrapper
    RadEditor's bottom area: Design, Html and Preview modes, Statistics module and resize handle.
    It contains RadEditor's Modes/views (HTML, Design and Preview), Statistics and Resizer
    Editor Mode buttonsStatistics moduleEditor resizer
      
    RadEditor's Modules - special tools used to provide extra information such as Tag Inspector, Real Time HTML Viewer, Tag Properties and other.
       

Injure

 

Follow us on

Newsletter