Answering the question, “What’s for dinner?” unvaryingly leads to more questions. The modern food culture web is continuously branching and growing in complexity as dietary preferences of consumers worldwide are being influenced by geographic location, protein choices, lifestyle trends, ethnic backgrounds, seasonal availability, and a factor that directs one’s inner compass—religious beliefs.
With over 4,000 (and growing) religions being observed, several sects and doctrines bridge food with faith and spirituality. Devout followers of influential religions such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, to name a few, make intentional food choices to satisfy their nutritional requirements and respect the religious laws. This impacts food safety and quality management systems from harvesting, slaughtering, or sourcing to food packaging and labeling.
There is a growing need for food businesses to ensure religious compliance, apart from meeting established health and safety standards. A few revered religion-based dietary labels include the following.
Halal. Followers of Islam observe two broad food categories, namely halal (Arabic for those that are permitted) and haram (those that are forbidden). While halal and haram are universal terms that apply to all facets of a Muslim’s life, this categorization is commonly used in relation to food and beverage products, food contact materials, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Haram foods include pork and porcine byproducts, alcohol, and products that may contain enzymes or emulsifiers made from haram animal fats such as lard, porcine gelatin, or fats derived from animals not slaughtered following the Islamic laws. Food products fermented by yeast and that contain hints of alcohol also fall under the haram category. The way in which an animal is slaughtered prior to processing is pivotal according to religious guidelines and needs to be carried out by a skilled and trained Muslim slaughterer. In addition to this, meat, poultry, and seafood need to be derived from animals and fish fed vegetarian feed for them to be certified as halal. According to the report released by the World Halal Forum in 2015, halal foods account for 16 percent of the global food industry and this number is expected to grow significantly by 2020.
Kosher. Jews recognize certain types of food products as permissible (kosher, Hebrew for pure) and prohibited (treif). Kosher food certification and labeling is slightly more complicated as it branches out further based on elaborate Biblical regulations. Moreover, it is prohibited for meat and dairy products to mix with each other, from farm to fork. The three sub-categories of kosher food include meat, dairy, and pareve—food products that are neither meat nor dairy. Cleaning activities, production utensils and equipment used, preparation steps, processing, and food packaging procedures need to adhere with the religious requirements as well. Kosher food products that are neither meat nor dairy may lose their pareve status if they are processed in meat or dairy production facilities that lack a physical separation from the rest of the operation or when additives have been employed—meaning, the purity has been compromised.
This rule is meticulously practiced by observant Jews even when it comes to handling cooking utensils, food contact surface, and food storage containers. Some may run the extra mile of following separate cleaning cycles for utensils used to prepare dairy products and those utilized in cooking meat and poultry products.
When it comes to wine, a separate set of guidelines dictate production and processing. Even if all the ingredients in the produced wine are of kosher origin and the equipment used is kosher compliant, it will be certified and endorsed as kosher only if the production was carried out solely by Torah-observant Jews.