TORONTO — No Jewish schools or daycares were affected in a recent scandal involving Whole Green Kids, a now-defunct catering company that reportedly falsely packaged bargain-basement meals as kosher, halal, organic, local and whole-grain, the Kashruth Council of Canada says.
From the Whole Green Kids Spring Menu
But with daycare operators refusing to comment about the company since it was the focus of an investigative report several weeks ago in the Toronto Star, it’s impossible to tell how many Jewish parents may have relied on the company’s claims when choosing meals for their children in schools and daycares not under the council’s auspices.
The Kashruth Council, the country’s largest kosher certification agency, which oversees the COR hechsher, said it received a call from a consumer before the story broke.
“We had received a general inquiry a while back about it,” said spokesperson Richard Rabkin, but a “cursory examination” concluded that “the product was not being advertised as kosher at all.”
He admitted, however, that the council was unaware of an unauthorized COR logo that features prominently on the Whole Kids website’s home page, which was still online last week. He also said the council was unaware of kosher claims throughout Whole Kids’ menus and other materials. “There was no need for us to get involved in a specific way.”
Whole Green Kids, which appears to be out of business, operated for three years, according to a “statement of facts” submitted by owner Susan Blouin to the Toronto Star. She claims the company employed more than 40 people and served more than 1,000,000 meals at 75 schools and daycares in Toronto and Ottawa before its alleged misdeeds came to light.
“All my schools were extremely happy with service and quality for years,” she wrote, blaming “incompetent staff and personal vendettas” for the failure of her business and adding that she’d downsize with “much more professional people.”
That’s unlikely, given a province-wide public health alert about the company following several food-safety violations
Blouin and her husband were renting a $2.2-million Etobicoke home and driving a Porsche Cayenne while charging daycares $3.70 per child per day for meals the company said contained “as much local and organic content as possible.”
Whole Kids’ spring 2010 menu offered “Free-Range Chicken Breast with Vegetarian Sauce” and “Ontario Garden Organic Vegetables and Homemade Hummus.” It boasted that the food was “free of trans fats, artificial colouring and artificial preservatives” and used “non-GMO natural butter.”
The menu, like the company’s home page, displayed the COR 105 logo alongside the “Certified Halal” logo of the Islamic Society of North America as “certification of our supplying partners of meats,” saying that “meal alternatives can be substituted for tofu or special cultural meats based on availability.”
COR 105 is the hechsher number assigned to Shefa Meats, but even if Blouin had purchased meat from Shefa, it would have been reprocessed, cooked and repackaged in an unsupervised facility. It’s unlikely she did, however, as the Star also reported that suppliers had been asked to write “kosher” and “halal” on meat labels.
Shefa did not respond to calls and e-mails for comment.
The CJN also received no reply after repeated attempts to contact Blouin, who made many other claims, such as buying meat from local organic supplier Beretta Farms. “We have not done business with Whole Kids since Fall 2009,” owner Cynthia Beretta said.
Whole Kids also claimed to belong to the U.S.-based Whole Grains Council, which told The CJN that the company made only one annual payment, in 2008.
There are a few legitimate kosher daycare caterers, but the Kashruth Council’s director of kashrut, foodservice division, Rabbi Tsvi Heber, said that such “meals would always be sent out with proper seals and stickers identifying meals as kosher under COR.”
Inspection manager Joe DiLecce of the Canada Food Inspection Agency said falsely claiming to be kosher contravenes the Food and Drug Act, which “prohibits the use of the word kosher or any letter of the Hebrew alphabet,” or anything “likely to create an impression that the food is kosher.” It also forbids the ambiguous term “kosher style.”
“We take any contravention of the Food and Drug Act seriously,” DiLecce said, adding that consumers can contact the CFIA directly at 1-800-701-2737.
“Part of our investigation,” says DiLecce, “is really to determine… what’s the mindset?” Most commonly, a company buys kosher ingredients but uses them in an unsupervised facility. In most of these cases, a warning is sufficient.
But “if somebody’s intent is blatantly fraud,” DiLecce said, “we go to them and say, ‘Show us [kashrut] documentation.’”
Penalties can include up to $50,000 in fines and six months in jail, but neither of these is common, and “indictment is pretty rare,” DiLecce said.
The Kashruth Council can also take legal action if its logo is misused. Rabkin said consumers can call or e-mail the council (416-635-9550; firstname.lastname@example.org) about suspicious products or companies.