By Lenore T. Adkins
As Ramadan approaches, observant Muslims throughout the United States can easily find halal food to serve at their iftar meals as well as the rest of the year.
Islamic dietary restrictions forbid consumption of certain foods and regulate how animals may be slaughtered and foods made to ensure purity. (The Arabic word halal means permitted by the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.)
In the U.S., certification organizations such as USA Halal Chamber of Commerce and Islamic Services of America check that foods and products claiming to be produced with halal practices meet the requirements. Once a product is certified, its maker affixes a compliance symbol on the packaging.
"Halal industry experts exist everywhere and not just in Muslim-majority countries," said Timothy Hyatt, vice president of Islamic Services of America. "Our existence since the mid-1970s shows that the USA is well versed and experienced in the halal industry and recognized as far as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore."
Based in Iowa, Hyatt's organization certifies flavors, syrups, grains, chemicals and processing aids as halal for clients in North America, Europe and China. (Those clients sell their products to food processors and other industry supply chains.) The organization also certifies some finished retail goods - from meat and poultry to cosmetics and vitamins.
Maryland-based USA Halal Chamber of Commerce began certifying meat and poultry, beverages, snacks, chemicals and cosmetics in 1997. The organization is experienced in certifying just about every kind of halal product that might be sold on supermarket shelves, said Aly Ghanim, its quality manager.
USA Halal's certification is recognized worldwide. Most of those seeking its services are U.S. manufacturers and food processors, but it also attracts clients in Canada, Mexico and Europe.
How it worksIslamic Services of America's quality assurance team reviews ingredients and production flowcharts for compliance and conducts facility audits. If a producer passes, its facilities and products can be advertised as halal for a year, until its next inspection.
Certification usually takes 30 days but could take longer for more complex products, Hyatt said. While common standards exist within Islamic law, some countries have different standards. For products headed to those markets, Islamic Services takes additional compliance steps.
USA Halal's inspection reports are reviewed by a committee, which adds some time, but its process is generally similar, Ghanim said.
"Services like us become more essential because you want whoever is receiving the final product … to be confident that these products are indeed what they say they are," Ghanim said.