Following a string of publicized operational breaches, the Muslim Judicial Council Halal Trust (MJCHT) says its confident halal standards will improve at supermarket chains in the next few months. The Halal Trust met the top management of Pick ‘n Pay in the Western Cape last week to discuss the importance of halal certification standards at the retailer’s stores, of which Muslims are a large clientele.
The delegation, led by MJCHT director Shaykh Achmat Sedick and MJC president Irfaan Abrahams, aimed to strengthen relations with the company and to align halal operations at the company’s regional stores.
“The point is that we need to improve operations and eliminate any room for error in the halal section,” said Sedick.
Among the issues on the agenda were the layout of halal and non-halal meat sections and the purchasing of meat from various suppliers. Another important discussion related to how consumer complaints are dealt with and communication with the various structures of the company.
“When you go halal, your suppliers need to be halal certified and if they are not halal certified, there is the issue of contamination and the halal certificate can be removed,” said Sedick.
The Halal Trust and Pick ‘n Pay was compelled to reassess its operations following a string of labelling mishaps at a few in-store butcheries in recent years. While these blunders have been minimised, Sedick said the labelling errors were a result of a national codifying system implemented by Pick ‘n Pay’s national office. The problem arose when staff was using the incorrect codes to label halal meat items. Following these incidents, the MJCHT informed the retailer to make adjustments to the system, which has thus-far worked.
However, Sedick said the challenge was also to manage the social media outrage when these types of incidents occur. With Muslim consumers being a lot more vigilant of what they eat, halal certifiers have to be ready to deal with floods of complaints.
The Trust believes training for Pick ‘n Pay staff on the standards for halal operations is vital to improving things at a store-level. The two parties agreed on a bi-annual training course for non-Muslim staff to understand the concept of halal foods and how halal certification works.
“If you put a new staff member into the deli, they must be orientated. Not only on the meaning of ‘halal’ but the labelling becomes part of the halal procedures. We can’t expect non-Muslims to know halal standards but what we asked was that non-Muslims be given some introduction into halal operations.”
In terms of its halal policies, the MJCHT states that each Pick ‘n Pay store (where halal meat is stocked) should have ‘halal monitors’ placed at the store. Inspectors from the Halal Trust visit the supermarkets on a weekly basis, while monitors are deployed at halal certified butcheries from Monday to Saturdays, but not afterhours.
The MJCHT also made a request that Muslim staff at the stores be of assistance to monitors.
While issues of hygiene, sanitation, cross contamination and adulteration of food items was usually monitored by city council inspectors, Sedick said these aspects are equally important for halal certification standards.
“It goes beyond pork and wine…we need non-Muslims to respect halal food standards as we would respect theirs.”
Overall, Sedick said the halal certifier was reasonably “happy” with the systems in place at Pick ‘n Pay stores in the province.
“We are committed to ensuring that the highest halal standards are adhered to, not only at the PnP chain stores, but wherever the MJCHT’s halal certificate and logo are displayed.”
The Trust plans to hold similar meetings with high level management at Shoprite Checkers and Woolworths next week.