|A Kosher Chicken in Every Pot - Part 1|
Wise Organic Pastures – The Processing Plant
Our Bubbie and “grand” Bubbies may have known how to make a famous roast chicken and of course, chicken soup, but certainly did not face the same chicken challenges that the kosher shopper faces today. Most chicken is no longer raised in the back yard! The consumer is now faced with numerous choices in quality, type and price.
Chicken has become a multi-billion dollar industry in America. Kosher chicken is no exception, but is somewhat more complicated. There has been extraordinary growth in kosher poultry sales in the last few decades. Along with observant Jews, many non-Jews and Jews who don’t necessarily adhere to kosher laws now purchase kosher poultry. Why? There is a perception that kosher certification adds a layer of clarity and transparency to poultry purchases. In addition to the FDA and government regulatory agencies, the processing plant must adhere to the specifications of a supervising kosher agency and rabbinical authority. Many consumers welcome this extra layer of inspection.
Kosher shoppers have choices to make. Our goal is to understand and to explain some of them to our readers.
Recently, as part of the KosherEye “kosher” summer road trip through Pennsylvania and Maryland, we were invited to tour both The Wise Organic Pastures processing plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania and a Wise Organic Poultry Farm, which is a 50-mile drive out into the Susquehanna Valley.
In Scranton, we had the pleasure of meeting Moshe Fink, founder of David Elliot Chicken and owner of the processing plant used by Wise Organic Pastures. He answered many of our technical kosher “processing” questions and provided background information.
According to Moshe, for poultry to be considered kosher, they must be in good health when slaughtered. The shochet must use a sharp knife and no stunning or electric shock is permissible before “shechita” (slaughter). Kosher poultry may not be heated, and blood must drip freely from the bird after slaughter. The knife must be sharp, the killing respectful, and the resulting blood symbolically “buried” under a floor covering – in this case a layer of sawdust, coal and ashes. The processing method is cold and no heat is ever applied.
Following slaughter, non-kosher poultry may be scalded with hot water. A natural occurrence from the use of hot water is that feathers just “slide” off. The result of kosher slaughter and cold processing is an unwelcome problem: residual feathers. If consumers are asked the one negative of kosher chicken, it is the feathers!
The David Elliot processing plant uses the “Cadillac” of defeathering machines, the LINCO, made in Sweden. But even with this mechanical wonder, which can be adjusted to the average size of the birds, due to the cold water processing system, feathers must be removed manually at the end of the processing line.
At the David Elliot plant, teams of workers stand with defeathering razor sharp knives and manually remove feathers after the machines have completed the initial process. Yes, this extra step of manual defeathering adds to the price of the poultry, and therefore, it is understandable that value priced poultry has more feathers when delivered to the consumer.
One positive aspect of the "kashering" process is very welcome. All kosher birds are soaked in fresh cold water for 1/2 hour, are than covered in salt for one hour, and then washed in fresh running water 3 times. This is done to follow the biblical prohibition to eating blood. Because of the salt "bath", most consumers applaud the taste, which taste similar to culinary brining. Kosher chickens have won numerous taste awards including a contest held by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. In this contest, a main rule is no seasoning is allowed on the chickens. Empire Kosher Poultry has won several of these prizes and Moshe Fink attributes the consecutive awards to the kosher process – specifically salting!
Our poultry facility visit began with the gracious invitation of our host Issac Wiesenfeld, president and owner of Wise Organic Pastures. His mother, Rachel Wiesenfeld started Wise Organic Pastures in 1992. She founded the company after the family faced a financial setback. According to Mrs. Wiesenfeld, there was “a need in the kosher poultry market for wholesome chicken raised the old-fashioned way — free range, organically fed, hormone-free — and processed according to strict kosher standards. At the time, there was organic chicken and there was kosher chicken, but no one was offering chicken that was both organic and kosher.”
Her son, Issac, the fifth child of 11 siblings, was the only sibling to join the company! The offices are based in Brooklyn, but the plant and farms are in Pennsylvania. The family has had a thriving business relationship with Moshe Fink for the past 18 years. Although the Wise Organic Pastures started 18 years ago, the company could not add the official organic label until the legislation was passed in Washington in Oct 2001. The Wiesenfelds are truly organic kosher pioneers! And, timing is everything. Since USDA established the National Organic Program officially in 2002, the organic food market has grown by almost 20 percent annually.
KosherEye was given a full tour of the entire David Elliott processing plant. What did we see?
The sanitation and efficiency we observed at the plant was impressive. Before we were permitted to tour, we had to dress from head to toe, (including boots and hats) in sanitary cover. The shechita atmosphere was antiseptic. The Rabbi inspects each bird for blemishes or problems, and then skillfully and quickly cuts through the neck with a slash of his constantly sharpened knife. The job must be both holy and professionally precise. From the off-loading dock to the packaging area, the plant appears clean, well run and intense in purpose. Certainly the atmosphere is not for the squeamish; however it was a realistic view of how the chickens we eat are slaughtered, kashered, cleaned and packaged.
Both the Organic and Kosher poultry market has grown over the years. The economy certainly affects the consumer’s ability to buy the higher priced organic chickens- but, conversely, the number of organic buyers is growing.
For more information about Wise Organic Pastures, visit WiseOrganicPastures.com. To learn more about David Elliott poultry, call 570-344-6348
Special notes from KosherEye:
Wise Organic Pastures – We are very appreciative to Issac Wiesenfeld for welcoming us to his processing plant and farm and giving us complete access to both facilities. In addition, we are grateful to Moshe Fink of David Elliot Poultry for sharing detailed information about kosher processing and allowing us to tour his processing facility.
Chai Poultry – We appreciate the cooperation of CEO Charles Weinberg who was interviewed by phone; since Toronto, home of Chai Poultry, was not on the kosher tour this time.
Empire Kosher Poultry – After several telephone calls, messages and emails to the company, we received no response from Empire. In the interest of providing a comprehensive kosher poultry feature for our readers, we followed up with a request to Empire’s media representative who sent us the following Empire response:
“The chickens are raised at dozens of growout houses in central PA, with (sic) a 100 mile radius of the plant. Due to health and safety rules, there are no visits to them. Empire is very strict about who can enter and be in contact with the birds.”
We look forward to hearing from Empire as we explore future features. Empire has recently acquired one of our favorite brands of poultry, Kosher Valley. Our lines of communication are open. We would like to know about this acquisition and how it will affect the product.
This list, from Consumer Reports, of Common Industry Chicken Terms, is very informative.