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Shocking findings in Stan & Pete treif chicken investigation

  • Zhukovka kosher chef
The investigation into the Stan & Pete treif chicken saga has revealed shocking details of how the country’s former foremost kosher caterer allegedly used unkosher meat (particularly chicken) in its operation.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Dec 06, 2018

The Bowmans Report, released last week, makes prima facie findings that Stan & Pete, owned by Jeff Shull, served unkosher chickens over a period of time prior to the discovery of the treif chickens in its kitchen by a Beth Din inspector on 28 February this year.

The 16-page report reveals that the discovery was not an isolated incident. It allegedly appeared to be part of a pattern of wilfully bringing non-kosher food into its kitchen. More than that, the chicken was then apparently wrapped in kosher packaging to ensure that the mashgichim (kashrut inspectors) did not catch on.

A reliable source told Bowmans that Stan & Pete employees “had purchased non-kosher chicken and meat from retail outlets. They removed the non-kosher packaging, placed the chicken and meat into plastic containers brought from Stan & Pete’s premises for this purpose. They then wrapped the containers with plastic and Beth Din tape and took the containers into Stan & Pete’s premises after the mashgiach had left for the day. They cut the seals on the meat fridges and freezers and placed the containers into them, and then resealed the seals in a manner which was not noticed by the mashgiach when he broke the seals to open the fridges and freezers the next working day.”

The report also found prima facie evidence that non-kosher chicken was served at some functions or to some kosher customers, but it did not draw any conclusion with regard to meat.

“In the course of our investigation, we received evidence that Stan & Pete had purchased non-kosher chicken and meat prior to the incident on 28 February 2018,” the report stated.

“One of the people we interviewed, who we consider to be credible, told us that from his personal knowledge, Stan & Pete had been purchasing non-kosher chicken and meat from retail businesses (which he named) for some years prior to 28 February 2018, and that this had been used at kosher functions.”

During the period of analysis of chicken products, Stan & Pete “used significantly more chicken than the kosher chicken it purchased, but a significant majority of the chicken used by Stan & Pete during this period was kosher”.

“There is prima facie evidence that the discovery of non-kosher chickens on Wednesday 28 February 2018 in the kitchen of Stan & Pete was not an isolated incident, and was part of a pattern of wilfully bringing non-kosher food into its kitchen. This is not a conclusive finding, as we consider that we are not in a position to come to any such finding without establishing that Stan & Pete did not purchase frozen kosher chicken from supermarkets in quantities which would significantly reduce the significant shortfall reflected by our forensic analysis.”

From the onset of the investigation – and in spite of several attempts by Bowmans to meet Shull at his premises to share information – Shull refused to do so, according to the report. This made the investigation extremely challenging. The forensic analysis was conducted over 14 months, from 1 January 2017 to 28 February 2018.

The report made it clear that what they had was prima facie evidence, “not a conclusive finding”.

It filled in the gaps of the original story. On 28 February 2018, the report related, during the course of a normal inspection by one of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues’ (UOS’s) inspectors, about 20 treif chickens were found in the kitchens of Stan & Pete. The inspector immediately informed three Beth Din dayanim (judges), who went to the premises. They asked the proprietor of the kosher chicken supplier to come to the premises, and he verified that the chickens were treif.

Shull then repeatedly told the dayanim and the inspector that he did not know how the treif chickens came to be on the premises.

Bowmans said Shull refused to co-operate with its investigation, and its team was not given access to “any of its executives, management, or current employees, or to any of Stan & Pete’s documents and records”, according the report.

This refusal to co-operate “significantly hampered” the investigation.

Bowmans therefore said it found “no evidence” to support Shull’s initial claim that the treif chickens might have been put there by an employee who was replacing chickens he or she had stolen.

The investigation was conducted along two main lines: interviews with all relevant stakeholders; and a forensic analysis to compare the quantities of kosher chicken and meat purchased by Stan & Pete with the quantities of chicken and meat used in products supplied by Stan & Pete.

Scores of interviews, telephone conversations, and email communication took place.

Bowmans made recommendations based on its investigation. It said mashgichim and inspectors needed to be “be vigilant about looking out for criminality”, including avoiding distraction, or being required to work in a secluded area for lengthy periods.

It recommended that the seals placed on fridges and freezers by the mashgiach when leaving the premises be tamper proof.

It agreed with the recommendation made by international kashrut accreditation body, the Association of Kashrus Organisations (AKO), that CCTV and recording systems be installed in all catering establishments, and that the Beth Din Kashrut Department should have live access to such systems.

It recommended that the Kashrut Department have an “action plan” for dealing with situations like what happened with Stan & Pete, including the ability to gain immediate access to the premises and secure relevant documents to obtain information and statements.

It also suggested that mashgichim and inspectors be “trained to identify indicators and clues” in chicken which may point to the chicken originating from a producer of non-kosher chickens.

Following the release of the report, the UOS put out a statement, saying that it “completely accepts Bowmans’ findings, and apologises to our community that this breach of kashrut standards occurred”.

It thanked the community for its patience during the lengthy investigation, and thanked Bowmans for the professional manner in which it conducted its investigation, and for doing the job pro bono.

“Emerging from the crisis, the UOS was and is determined that the standards of kashrut in our community should be upgraded and strengthened,” it wrote.

Earlier in the year, the UOS brought out the world’s leading kashrut experts from the AKO to do another investigation. The Kashrut Department, under the guidance of the Beth Din, has committed itself to implementing all of the AKO’s recommendations for improvement.

Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, the head of the Kashrut Department, has been given the mandate to revamp the department. Goldstein told the SA Jewish Report this week, “I feel encouraged by the Bowmans report. As my role is to help bring in a new era for kosher in South Africa, and to improve the kashrus system, the recommendations contained in the Bowmans report are most welcome.”

He gave his assurance that the kosher department would implement the AKO and Bowmans’ recommendations, and that extensive changes had already been introduced.

In its statement, the UOS said it was determined to serve the community better by ensuring a higher level of kashrut for all, under the supervision of the Beth Din. “The real tragedy of a crisis is to emerge unchanged by it. The UOS is determined that the organisation and our community will emerge from this crisis stronger and better,” it said.

The SA Jewish Report tried on numerous occasions to get comment from Shull, but at the time of going to print, he had not responded.

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