Montreal - Airlines Serving Kosher Food Originating From Canada Gets New Mehadrin Hechsher
Montreal - The Jewish Community Council/Vaad Ha’ir in Montreal is now the sole certifier of kosher food on Air Canada and many other airline flights originating in Canada, replacing COR of Toronto, after Canada’s largest airline switched its kosher catering contract to a new joint Israeli-Canadian venture under the
The agreement between the Vaad, Air Canada and kosher meal providers that came into effect May 1 is historic, Vaad officials said, because it puts into place the “highest” standard of kashrut under an MK Mehadrin hechsher that they say is acceptable even to haredim.
The new deal represents a coup for the Vaad, which now oversees the kashrut for all airline meals – including Air Canada’s and specific El Al meals – prepared at Cara Airline Solutions’ kosher kitchen in Toronto. Some 29 airlines – including KLM, Air France and British Airways – will now have their kosher meals supplied by Cara with an MK (Montreal Kosher) hechsher, instead of a COR certification.
But it also signified a loss for Montreal kosher caterers and restaurants, which had prepared kosher food for flights out of Montreal under the MK hechsher, as well as for the Toronto-based Kashruth Council of Canada, whose COR hechsher had been on all kosher meals made in the Ontario capital. The Air Canada meals had been supplied by another company, LSG Sky Chefs, in partnership with Zuchter Berk Creative Caterers of Toronto.
Now all kosher airline meals prepared at the Toronto Cara facility will bear the MK Mehadrin stamp, while the COR stamp will appear only on airline meals prepared by LSG Sky Chefs, said Rabbi Saul Emanuel, the Vaad’s executive director.
Rabbi Emanuel said the new “partnership” between the Vaad, Cara, and Hamasbia Airline Food Industries in Israel – which supplies “special kosher” meals for haredi passengers on flights from Israel – will bring an unprecedented level of quality, consistency and service to the kosher traveller.
“This is a very, very big deal,” he said.
HamasbiaCanada, a new company formed out of the Cara and Hamasbia Israel partnership, is the entity that will run the kosher airline meal operation.
Rabbi Emanuel said kosher meals on Air Canada and other airlines’ flights from Canada are to be produced out of the huge Cara kosher kitchen facility on the outskirts of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. The kitchen was revamped over the last few weeks to meet MK Mehadrin-level standards and is manned by Cara employees, who prepare the meals.
A HamasbiaCanada sign has already replaced a “Cara Airline Solutions” sign on the exterior of the kosher kitchen, and the facility’s kashrut is being overseen solely by Montreal Vaad mashgichim.
The new arrangement came about as a result of concerns expressed by Air Canada over the inconsistent quality of kosher meals served to passengers on its flights from Canada, Rabbi Emanuel said.
According to Rabbi Emanuel, when Air Canada saw the higher quality of Hamasbia Israel “special kosher” meals – meaning meals acceptable to haredi Jews – on its flights from Israel (the company also supplies “special” meals on El Al flights from Israel), the airline began consulting with Hamasbia Israel’s president, Azriel Tauber, on ways to improve kosher meals coming from Canada.
Within a few months, Rabbi Emanuel said, Air Canada notified its kosher supplier in Toronto that it would be switching from LSG Sky Chefs to Cara’s kosher kitchen, which also prepares meals for El Al flights from Canada.
He said Cara at the same time was in the process of consulting with Hamasbia Israel’s Tauber, a longtime acquaintance of Rabbi Yonasan Weiss, chief rabbi of the Montreal Vaad’s Beth Din, and Tauber recommended to Cara that the Vaad’s MK Mehadrin certification be used for meals prepared at the Cara kitchen.
“On that basis [HamasbiaCanada] was started,” Rabbi Emanuel said. “By Air Canada switching to Cara, that’s what allowed this project to happen.”
Calls to Air Canada and COR officials weren’t returned by the CJN’s deadline, but in an April 30 posting on its website, the Kashruth Council said it “wishes to advise the community that Cara Airline Solutions, a provider of kosher airline meals, is no longer under COR supervision.”
Isaac Drookman, owner of Zuchter Berk, called the new deal “a disaster” because “it makes both kashrut agencies [MK and COR] weaker,” since there’s now a “second option” and each might seek to encroach on the other’s turf.
“COR and the MK are at war,” he said.
Under the agreement, all kosher meals prepared by HamsbiaCanada at Cara will be sealed and shrink-wrapped and bear the HamasbiaCanada and MK Mehadrin labels and insignias. A green label will indicate a pareve meal. Red will signify meat; blue, dairy; and mustard colour, fish.
Meals for El Al flights out of Canada will also be prepared at the newly configured kitchen, but only the airline’s “special kosher” meals will be sealed. Non-“special” kosher meals will continue to be certified by El Al’s own chief rabbi.
Rabbi Emanuel said the deal was finalized in mid-April, leaving less than two weeks to meet the May 1 start deadline.
The process, he said, included many trips to Toronto by Vaad officials, consultations with suppliers, marketers, and food production experts, adjusting meal ingredients to the MK Mehadrin-level “gold standard,” and Cara using its own team of engineers and designers to accommodate and put into place “technical changes” needed to revamp the kitchen.
In an interview from Israel, Tauber said he was “extremely happy to have a partner who is trustworthy and who is making every effort to make this story a success.”
“With both parties open-minded and committed to doing the right thing, it made things easier,” he said.
Rabbi Emanuel thinks the new kosher kitchen will be the largest in North America, estimating that it will prepare more than 100,000 meals annually.
He declined to disclose how much the Vaad will earn from the new arrangement, but he was adamant that it’s not about the money. “Our real concern was not the money for the contract,” he said. “Our concern was to have a product with the highest possible standard of kosher quality available to the consumer. That was really the main aim.”
Rabbi Emanuel said the deal may eventually allow kosher travellers to enjoy nutritious and high-quality foods in airport terminals as they wait for flights.
He said Danielle Medina, whose 18-month-old, Montreal-based company, Food with a Conscience, works with Canadian airlines to make their meals both nutritious and high quality, has been a vital part of the process to ensure that the new mehadrin-level airline meals meet a new standard.
To that end, Medina, who is Jewish, recently launched Kosher Food with a Conscience and has been in consultation with the Vaad and HamasbiaCanada.
Medina said she wants to raise the quality level of MK Mehadrin food on Air Canada flights to rival what exists on flights from Europe. “If you take a flight from London to Montreal, the quality is unbelievable,” she said.
There are also plans to have high-quality mehadrin-level kosher food available at airports as well as in the frozen food sections of grocery stores, Medina said.
“We’re very excited about it,” Cara president Rob Ramage told The CJN. “I think with Hamasbia we have a great opportunity to grow the business beyond airline customers. We want to take it to the next level of availability. If my customers are happy, I’m happy.”
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