Mainstreaming Halal One Certification at a Time

Based in the greater Chicago area, the Islamic Food and Nutritition Council of America (IFANCA) is dedicated to the promotion of halal as a dietary need for Muslims. The non-profit was founded in 1982 by a group of Muslim food scientists.

The founders understood that many ingredients used in a variety of foods were not suitable for halal consumption. With an advisory board consisting of Islamic scholars, as well as nutrition and food science professionals, IFANCA set out to help the food industry provide products that met halal guidelines.

IFANCA provides halal certification and consulting services as well as educational services for consumers and industry.

IFANCA has authored a number of books including Islamic Dietary Concepts and Practices; Islamic Dietary Laws and Practices and Halal Food Production.

These publications helped the food industry navigate and understand halal - so much so, that today halal is a part of every major food corporation and food science programs at many schools.

By leading halal educational sessions and conferences, IFANCA’s technical leadership has influenced the development of halal certification standards in the food industry.

Today, IFANCA certifies over 50,000 retail and industrial food products from 4,000 companies in 65 countries. The breadth of halal certification has made IFANCA one of the go-to resources on halal for the American government, judicial system and educational institutions.

We spoke with Maria Omar, director of media relations for the certification firm.

IFANCA sponsored the recent Bay Area Halal Food Festival. Why are halal-related projects important for your organization?

We have been working to make halal certified products available to consumers for the past 25 years. We want to support activities that shine a spotlight on halal.

It’s exciting to see that 2013 is turning out to be the year of halal food festivals. From Toronto to Houston, large metropolitan areas with sizeable Muslim populations are bringing foodies from all walks of life to chew (literally) over the idea of halal.

We think halal festivals are a great idea and hope they create discussions on what Muslims can do to get mainstream food companies to consider their halal needs.

So how do you go about certifying a product to be halal?

IFANCA halal certified products undergo a thorough review of all ingredients and formulations and need to meet the organization’s halal requirements. IFANCA food scientists break down the product information to the raw materials and analyze them for non-halal compliant materials. The production processes are also reviewed and approved.

Halal control points are added to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) procedures and must be complied with. A facility must pass a detailed audit. Unique product identification codes are established to distinguish halal certified products. Unique requirements may be dictated for a particular plant, manufacturing process and the product portfolio in order to meet strict guidelines.

For meat and poultry plants, IFANCA only accepts trained, Muslim slaughter-men and inspectors to perform the slaughter in accordance with established Islamic requirements. Once a facility passes all the requirements for certification, a halal site certificate, also known as halal registration, is issued for a fixed period of time, normally one year.

For processed meat products, the certificate is issued for each batch or shipped quantity. After the certification is issued, the company is allowed to produce halal product and display the Crescent-M halal certification mark.

The Crescent-M is IFANCA’s registered symbol used to inform the consumers that the product is halal certified by IFANCA and meets the strict requirements for halal certification acceptable globally.

The Crescent-M. That is interesting. Can you tell us some products we might find the Crescent-M on?

Absolutely. We certify over 50,000 products, so the list is long. You can find a list of halal certified retail products and the geographic regions where they are available on our website at http://www.ifanca.org/products/products/catalog.

I’ll specifically mention some for US halal consumers. We recently certified Organic Valley dairy products. They produce a variety of milk, cream, cheese, butter and milk powders. Their products are organic. You will find the Crescent-M on the milk product now and the other products will be joining in the future.

For those halal consumers with a sweet tooth, you will see the Crescent-M on Godiva Chocolates. Many Cabot cheeses and Kontos flatbreads have been displaying the Crescent-M on them for a while now. We have also halal certified Abbott infant formula and nutritional products. This helps mothers provide halal certified products for their babies, as well as give hospitals a nutritional product for patients. Abbott products are also available as part of the USDA special supplemental program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

The Crescent-M halal certification is also on Wonderful Pistachios, Wonderful Almonds, J&M Food Products Company® and Saffron Road™ meals. J&M Food meals are also used by the US military to meet the dietary needs of halal service men and women. You can find the Crescent-M on Tom’s of Maine toothpastes as well as on nutritional supplements produced by Sunrider International and Nutrilite.

It became possible to certify the nutritional supplements, which come in capsule form, after IFANCA helped develop halal certified gelatin to make the capsules. The development of halal certified gelatin is an interesting story we can share with you another time. These are some of the certified products.

It sounds like you do a lot of work with companies. How do you stay in touch with the halal consumer?

The halal consumer is so important that we use a number of communication methods. Halal consumers talk with IFANCA directly through phone, email and our website’s contact form. There is also a lot of interaction through our Facebook page and on Twitter.

We also publish Halal Consumer©, our quarterly magazine, and Halal Digest©, our monthly e-newsletter. Both are free to the public and available on our website. Halal Consumer magazine has a circulation of 30,000 and is distributed free of charge. Other resources for consumers on the website (www.ifanca.org) include:

1)    Halal Shoppers Guide

2)    Halal Foodservice Kit

3)    Educational Videos

4)    IFANCA’s halal certified product database

We also sponsor and participate in special events, such as this Halal Food Festival, conferences and other venues.  We have developed special programs like the Halal and Nutrition Workshop Series, where we partnered with Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen to hold interactive cooking demonstrations and discuss nutrition and healthy food choices at community centers.

It sounds like halal has a good future here. Do you see any challenges for halal and the halal consumer?

Yes, of course, there are challenges. Two of the main ones are the availability of zabiha halal meat and the food industry’s use of alcohol. Both these topics require more time to cover than we have in this interview, but let me say a few things about each of them.

In the area of meat, machine slaughter of poultry is an issue for many Muslims who want the traditional method of hand-slaughtered poultry meat, rather than machine-slaughtered. Hand-slaughtered poultry meat is available but the quantity is not sufficient to meet the demand.

To provide high volumes of hand-slaughtered halal meat is a challenge, especially in the absence of trained workers and food safety benchmarks. The machine slaughtering method has developed into a very sophisticated, safe, economically viable process that meets high product quality standards.

Under IFANCA standard operating procedures, the machine and the slaughter line are always under the control of Muslim slaughter-men. Islamic scholars have pondered deeply on this topic and many agree that mechanical poultry slaughter is acceptable under Muslim supervision.

However, slaughter by a trained Muslim slaughter-man’s hand using a sharp knife, called hand-slaughter, remains the most acceptable method of poultry slaughter. IFANCA is making every effort to promote this method among the industry.

On the subject of alcohol in products, let us be clear that alcoholic beverages, which are referred to as khamr, are completely prohibited. Using even a small quantity of this in any product means the product cannot be halal certified.

In the food industry, alcohol is used for technical reasons to extract and standardize flavors. It is standard industry practice to use alcohol because it is the best solvent for these applications and it is cost effective. The extracted and standardized flavors are added to a multitude of products.

In fact, it is difficult to find products that do not include flavors in the ingredient list. When a flavor is added to a product, IFANCA requires that the alcohol content of the food product be less than 0.1% in order for the food product to qualify for halal certification.

We have conducted tests on products containing 0.1% alcohol and found it to be undetectable by taste. In the Muslim world, Indonesia and Malaysia represent the largest halal markets. They both accept products containing less than 0.1% alcohol as halal as long as the alcohol does not come from alcoholic beverages. It might surprise some to know that alcohol occurs naturally in many foods including fruits, fruit juices and milk.

IFANCA’s halal certification standards are frequently reviewed in consultation with Islamic scholars and food scientists and in light of new technology developments and industry practices. They are modified as needed to ensure they are always applied in adherence to the Islamic laws.

Thank you. We've had a great coversation. Any final thoughts?

We want to thank the halal consumers for letting the industry know they are looking for halal certified products. When we talk to food companies asking about halal certification, it turns out that they are motivated by halal consumers’ requests.

Keep asking for more halal certified products. And if you find a halal certified product you enjoy, let the manufacturer know that. Everyone likes to know they are appreciated!