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Halal News Gone Viral, Cross-Contamination, and The Vertical Cut – An Update on Creekstone Farms Beef

40,000 views in one day. 85,000 since debut. Over 10,000 shares on Facebook. Restaurant groups changing their business operations. Big name food organizations reaching out for follow-up.creekstone_dry_age_mattingly_foods

When I published the debut post for Muslim Eater on Creekstone Farms offering Halal meat I knew it would be big. I didn’t know it would be that big.

The experience overall has been quite the ride. It’s taught me a lot about the Muslim community and our interest obsession with meat while forcing me to learn more detail about the intricacies of Halal slaughter than I ever knew existed. Thousands of Muslims have found happiness in the fact that they now have access to top quality Halal beef all across America. I’m glad Allah blessed me with the opportunity to provide that for them.

I’ve gotten a number of questions from readers about Creekstone Farms and the article I wrote. I collected the common ones and have some answers I’d like to share.

How did people react to the discovery?

The famous Pat LaFrieda Meats in New York, purveyor that put Creekstone Farms on the map. [Photo: Hans Gissinger/New York Times]
The famous Pat LaFrieda Meats in New York, purveyor that put Creekstone Farms on the map. [Photo: Hans Gissinger/New York Times]
While I was excited to share the news on Creekstone after months of research, it was no match to the reaction of people who the article was written for. People were sharing the article online celebrating as if Paradise was found on Earth. I actually don’t eat out that much, but it seems a lot of American Muslims do. Apparently the combination of Creekstone beef being a thing in high-end restaurants and also being Halal was something that affected the dining and social lives for hundreds if not thousands of Muslims.

The article also affected my life in how the Muslim community interacted with me. The day it went live my phone, Email, Twitter, Facebook, and any other form of contact were exploding with messages.  Notable Muslim figures and personalities messaged me through the website and social media. When visiting the masjid people shook my hand like I had saved their first child. People introduce me at parties and weddings as “the guy who wrote the Creekstone article.” Funny, because when I first published the article, I had never even eaten Creekstone beef. In fact, I didn’t even have it until two months after. People now see me as the champion of Halal beef in America, yet if they knew the real me, they’d know I’m much more excited about baking a loaf of sandwich bread from scratch or cooking up the perfect batch of oatmeal.

Beyond readers and myself, the article affected a number of restaurants and food groups. Some contacted me to remove their name from the article’s list of restaurants that serve Creekstone meat, as they either no longer did or never did in the first place (some purveyors provided me with restaurants which strangely never carried Creekstone). Others asked me to remove their name because they said, “we’re not Halal,” thinking my article claimed their entire restaurant was Halal certified. They may have misunderstood that I merely wrote that these places carry meat that’s Halal (more on that later).

But most interesting of all were those who embraced the hype. Some chains actually went out of their way to invite and accommodate Muslim customers by ensuring cross-contamination free cooking. One meat purveyor in another state that distributes Creekstone asked me how they can further reach out to their local Muslim community and make them aware of the Creekstone options in their area.

I knew the news would affect people to some extent, but it ended up exceeding my expectations.

How can I guarantee I’m eating a truly Halal meal?

Steaks being prepped at the Creekstone Farms test kitchen. [Photo: Creekstone Farms]
Steaks being prepped at the Creekstone Farms test kitchen. [Photo: Creekstone Farms]
As my post stated, there is a procedure one has to use in order to enjoy eating dishes at restaurants made with Creekstone beef. The problem I ran into is my post was really long (I’m terrible at brevity) and people don’t seem to like reading. This bad combination of realities led to some understandable confusion. Here’s a summary of what you need to know.

In short:

  • The list of restaurants serve Creekstone beef for certain select items on their menus
  • The restaurants are not fully Halal or Halal certified as they may serve pork and alcohol
  • Most of the restaurants use other suppliers for beef
  • The list of restaurants is based on internet searching and may change if a restaurant changes suppliers or runs of out of stock
  • Restaurants may tell you they do not carry any Halal meat since they did not order a Halal label/certificate from Creekstone’s certifier, Halal Transaction of Omaha, even though all Creekstone beef is certified Halal
  • Restaurants may not know what Halal even is
  • Neither Creekstone nor Halal Transactions of Omaha guarantee that the meat served at any restaurant is Halal because they have no control over what the restaurants serve

That’s why my article provided a basic calling procedure to verify if a restaurant has dishes served with Creekstone and how to go about ordering it.

But the article didn’t seem to help everyone. People still ask me, “how can I really be sure my food is prepared in a fully Halal way?” Even though I was pretty thorough in my explanation, why is there so much hesitation?

I think I know why. There is a little bit of unfamiliarity and not being in one’s comfort zone with this Halal beef thing. For many people the steaks and burgers they saw on restaurant menus were never permissible for their entire lives to eat. Now, all of a sudden, a few of them are made using Halal beef and can be prepared for you in a Halal way. A lifelong taboo has now been made completely accessible. It makes sense if people are hesitant; it’s almost too good to be true.

There’s also the reality that a restaurant may not understand everything there is about cross-contamination between Halal and non-Halal foods. This leads to a risk issues.

The key is in understanding your role as a Halal eater in seeking out Halal eating experiences. This basically comes down to two things.

You have to do your best in asking for accommodations to your needs. This involves some effort of effectively communicating to a restaurant of what you eat and don’t eat and making sure the items cooked into the dish are okay to eat, as well. As Shaykh Yasir Qadhi once taught about this issue in his class on Halal food and clothing, “you’re an American, act like one.” Make your voice heard and you will be accommodated. Not only do these places want your business, they have the liability of being sued if they don’t serve you right that will push them to really do what they say they’re doing.

A Creekstone Farms steak seared in a ripping hot cast iron skillet at Resto in New York [Photo: Nick Solares/Serious Eats]
A Creekstone Farms steak seared in a ripping hot cast iron skillet at Resto in New York [Photo: Nick Solares/Serious Eats]
You have to trust in your restaurant. After communicating your needs all you can do is leave it to the person taking your order, the cook preparing it, and the management accommodating it to make it happen. So long as you did your part, it should be fine, as numerous scholars have told me this is enough for it to be Halal.

Many of us regularly order fast food with this same effort and trust system. When we order a tuna or veggie sandwich at Subway, we ask for clean knives and trust they don’t pull any fast ones on us. When we dine at Olive Garden, we ask for no wine in your tomato sauce and trust they really leave it out. When we order pancakes and an omelet at IHOP, we ask them to cook on separate surfaces and trust they don’t cook it in the same skillets in which sausage and bacon were cooked.

Just as we ask and trust these other establishments, ask a restaurant that serves Creekstone to accommodate your needs. It’s the same thing.

Some of us aren’t used to ordering high-end beef this way, let alone even dining at fancy restaurants to begin with (many Muslims don’t bother if they don’t have Halal red meat or chicken). Again, I fully understand. But if we’re already doing that with so many other restaurants why can’t we do it with the ones that serve Creekstone?

Still iffy about this whole thing? Maybe you need to see it go from theory to reality. Check out this picture of a memo Chicago burger chain Epic Burger issued to all of its locations:

Communication sent out to all Epic Burger locations to accommodate Halal eating Muslims (Photo: Imron Hussain)
Communication sent out to all Epic Burger locations to accommodate Halal eating Muslims (Photo: Imron Hussain)

The article got so many people to call Epic Burger locations and ask for separate cooking surfaces it perked the company’s interest. They ended up issuing a letter to all locations explaining Halal and laying out a procedure for Muslim customers in order to accommodate a truly Halal eating experience. The letter even references Muslim Eater in it (let me put on my sunglasses, because, boy, do I feel cool!). After God, this is thanks to all the awesome Chicagoland Muslim Eater readers who politely asked Epic Burger locations to accommodate them. This combo of Muslim patrons doing their best and Epic Burger responding so positively gives me assurance that you can eat Creekstone in a fully Halal manner. You just gotta do a little bit of work ahead of time.

Did you hear anything about Creekstone using a vertical cut to slaughter their beef?

[Photograph: Larry W. Smith, New York Times]
Angus cattle at Creekstone Farms slaughterhouse stunned before slaughtering [Photograph: Larry W. Smith, New York Times]
Shortly after the article was published there were questions about the slaughtering method of the cattle at Creekstone Farms. There were also some inquiries about their Halal certifier, Halal Transactions of Omaha. While I thought I had done thorough research on the issue, there were some things that came up from various readers that I needed to look into.

I reached out to Mufti Hussain Kamani, a scholar and friend in my Chicagoland locality I know and trust. With his help I reached back out to Halal Transactions of Omaha for a follow-up seeking clarification on their standards as a certifier and on Creekstone in specific.

HTO clarified all of the issues that arose via Email and phone. They even offered to let me meet up with them and some of the scholars on their Shariah Board during a business trip to Chicago. Together with Mufti Hussain Kamani, we had a friendly conversation about Halal, issues in the Muslim community, and specifically the issues which I had reached back out to them on.

In the end, I wrote a high-level summary of the information I found. Per Mufti Hussain’s advice, I sent the summary to a number of other American scholars to verify and check the research I did checked out. While I had done this with one scholar for my initial article that broke the Creekstone news, Mufti Hussain advised to send it to multiple scholars to ensure the research is accepted by scholars from multiple backgrounds, schools of Islamic law, and opinions.

The Email I sent to those scholars was as follows.

Subject: Question regarding Creekstone Farms

Assalaamu alaykum,

I hope you’re doing well! I wanted to ask you question about Creekstone Farms which I had written an article on as being certified Halal and have been looking into in the past few weeks.

After posting my initial article covering their Halal certification, some questions came up about the company’s slaughtering method that is approved by their certifier Halal Transactions of Omaha (HTO). The inquiries were in regard to if the company was using the vertical “European” cut for their beef which doesn’t cut the major passages in the neck of the cow and potentially doesn’t drain out all blood.

I reached back out to HTO about their process. Their director, Dr. Alabsy, happened to be in town in Chicago and met with me along with two of the scholars on their Shari’ah Board. Together, they explained to me the following:

  • HTO certifies the slaughter of cow using two methods: Dhabihah (horizontal slaughter) and Nahr (slaughter involving stabbing first then horizontally cutting vessels that’s ideally used for camel, allowed for cattle).
  • These methods are approved by a fatwa from the International Islamic Fiqh Academy and HTO’s Shari‘ah Board.
  • Both methods ultimately employ a horizontal cut. With Dhabihah the slaughterer cuts the throat of the cow in a horizontal orientation from the beginning onward. With Nahr, the slaughterer cuts the throat at the base of the neck then immediately follows it up with a horizontal cut.
  • Each method has the slaughterer cut through the esophagus, trachea, and two major blood vessels on both sides of the neck. One of HTO’s scholars described what he witnessed when visiting a slaughterhouse employing a Nahr procedure in that the slaughterer follows up the first stab with a horizontal cut that fully severed the passages mentioned above until the back of the cow’s neck.
  • A practicing Muslim performs these slaughters after reciting the tasmiyah (bismillah, Allahu akbar) over each cow using a sharp knife.
  • Each method ensures a full and thorough bleed out of the carcass, as also required by the USDA.
  • Creekstone is recognized by the USDA for packing Halal meat, however, the USDA does not implement a ritual slaughtering procedure of any kind at any plant.
  • This is for any slaughterhouse HTO approves in general. Specifically for Creekstone, HTO recently performed one of their regular audits of the company. The audit passed and the certification stands as very recent.

From the conversations and meetings I had with the Halal certifier and their scholarly board I feel I’ve done the full amount of research possible on this issue.

Is there anything else you feel I need to confirm on this issue before concluding the methods HTO uses to certify their slaughterhouses in general and specifically for Creekstone Farms is acceptable as Halal?

JazakumAllahu khair,

Saqib Shafi

Multiple scholars responded, some with follow up questions, some without. In the end, the following scholars agreed that my research was complete and sufficient and that the slaughtering method HTO employs at their slaughterhouses in general and at Creekstone is Halal:

Mufti Hussain Kamani  (Chicago, IL)
Instructor,  Qalam Institute
Graduate Shari’ah and Iftaa, Darul Uloom Bury, UK

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (Memphis, TN)
Dean of Academics, AlMaghrib Institute
B.A., M.A. Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Madinah
Ph.D. Islamic Studies, Yale Univerity

Imam Tahir Anwar (San Jose, CA)
Imam, Islamic Center of San Jose
Instructor, Zaytuna College
Graduate, Darul Uloom Falah-e-Darain, Gujurat, India

Shaykh Omar Suleiman (Dallas, TX)
Instructor, AlMaghrib Institute and Bayyinah Institute, Mishkah University
Resident Scholar, Valley Ranch Islamic Center
Member, ICNA Shariah Council

Imam Kashif Ahmed (Sacramento, CA)B.A. Islamic Theology, M.A Qur’anic Studies Islamic Institute of Education Dewsbury, England
Imam, Islamic Society of Rancho Cordova, California

Shaykh Omer Haqqani (Chicago, IL)
Graduate, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, India

Shaykh Amir Saeed (Chicago, IL)
Resident scholar and researcher, Islamic Learning Foundation, Chicago
B.A. Shariah, Al-Azhar University

Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda (Dallas, TX)
Instructor, Qalam Institute, Bayyinah Institute, AlMaghrib Institute
Graduate, Jamia Binoria, Pakistan
M.A. Arabic, Karachi University

So, there you have it. HTO’s slaughter process is overseen by their own scholars, checks out for numerous other American scholars, and addresses the issues of the Halal slaughter at Creekstone Farms.

Update 2014/09/15: HTO does not certify a vertical cut. Instead it allows plants to use a stabbing, as is the traditional Nahr method used by the Prophet Muhammad (S). They also do not use the the standard “European” cut that takes place at non-Halal slaughterhouses. This was a mistype on my part and has been edited in this article. Halal Transactions of Omaha has released their own update to clarify this.

The update also responds to the concerns about their standards. In it, they’ve provided information about the Muslim employees they train to work as slaughtermen in the plants they certify. Specifically for Creekstone Farms, HTO has attached copies of weekly Halal Slaughter Reports that are required to be completed in addition to their regular inspections and audits.

Halal Slaughter Report completed weekly at Creekstone Farms, part of the process of Halal inspection HTO requires at all plants it certifies Halal. [Photo: Halal Transactions Omaha]
Halal Slaughter Report completed weekly at Creekstone Farms, part of the process of Halal inspection HTO requires at all plants it certifies Halal. [Photo: Halal Transactions Omaha]
See HTO’s full article on their standards overall and the specifics of what they certify at Creekstone Farms here.

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As for the future of this site, I may publish articles similar to the Creekstone discovery from time to time. But Muslim Eater focuses on the overall education of food to Muslims. The spotlight will be on home cooking; those posts are underway.

As Muslim Eater continues to grow, I appreciate your readership and any communication you had with me regarding Creekstone, all of which I read. It’s this type of readership that drives me to continue working on this site and hopefully make it the ultimate resource on food for Muslims all over.

Thank you and happy eating!

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Where To Eat In Southeast Michigan and Halal Food at ISNA 2014

Southeast Michigan is a very special place to me. I have fond memories of summers spent with my cousins rotating between my five maternal uncles’ houses. I found my wife there and even moved there for about a year and a half for work. Without any hesitation I can say that area is my second home.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “what are some good places to eat in Michigan?” Michigan is one of most highest Muslim-populated states in America with most Muslims residing in the southeast part of the state. Muslims come from all over to visit the region for weddings, family gatherings, and events.

The question on where to eat usually is in regards to the city of Dearborn, the most Lebanese concentrated area outside of the actual country of Lebanon. Muslims and non-Muslims alike know all about the famous strip of garlic-sauce and shawarma filled restaurants on Warren Rd east of Southfield Freeway until the Interstate 94.

But Dearborn isn’t all southeast Michigan has to offer. Home to the majority of the state’s businesses and population, the greater “Metro” area is a diverse combination of history, community, and culture.

You know what else southeast Michigan includes? Detroit. As in the infamous gotham of a city that invokes images of rundown streets, poor politics and financial disaster. It’s telling that whenever people tell me they’re visiting the area they say they’re going to “Michigan.” Not Detroit (and even more telling is the same goes for many residents of the suburbs when I ask them where they live, they say Michigan, where as in the Chicago suburbs residents say Chicago, not Illinois).

But for those who really know Detroit know it’s actually the home of a new American renaissance. Suburbanites are moving into redone areas and neighborhoods, tech companies like Twitter have set up office, and a scene of arts, culture, and especially good eats, both old and new, are an integral part of the future of Detroit that’s underway.

That’s why my list of places to eat go beyond just Dearborn. There are great bites to grab all over greater Metro Detroit. And since my concept of Halal is not limited to just meat, this list appeals to all sorts of cuisine: ethnic, local, vegetarian, and more.

So, if you’re planning an upcoming visit, are a local who’s looking for something new, or will be attending the 2014 51st Annual ISNA Convention, here are best bites to eat in southeast, MI for the Muslim Eater. Continue reading

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5 Ways to Upgrade Your Dates

It’s Ramadan! And in addition to fasting, praying, reading Qur’an, and focusing on atonement and self-improvement, this month means dates. Lots and lots of dates.

Dates hold special status for Muslims. The Qur’an mentions Allah provided Mary with dates just after giving birth to Prophet Jesus. The Prophet Muhammad’s life is filled with stories of dates, too, peace be upon him. Not only was it the choice food he broke his fast with, but dates played a notable role in the lives of the people of Madinah, both in everyday cuisine and religious practice.

If you’re Muslim, you know these fruits of the date palm tree, usually dried, show up in your households in the dozens if not hundreds during Ramadan. Eating them straight up to break your fast, as the Prophetic practice was, is a cherished seasonal memory we all have.

But there are ways to enhance your date eating experience. Whether you want to do something special for an upcoming iftar party or just want to try dates in a totally different way, here are some ways to upgrade your dates. Continue reading

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Creekstone Beef Served in Top Restaurants Around America Is Halal

What if I told you that the high-quality beef served top restaurants across America was actually Zabihah Halal meat? Impossible, right?

Well, guess what? It’s actually true. Creekstone Farms, one of the top choices of beef for restaurants across America, just so happens to be a fully Zabihah Halal beef processing company.

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That means you can walk into any restaurant that gets beef from Creekstone, select a dish that is made with that beef, ensure it’s cooked and prepared without cross-contamination with other meats or alcohol, and enjoy some of the best meat in the country.

And what’s more is this is not run-of-the-mill average stuff. These are some of the top rated restaurants in major cities and even across the country.

And it’s all Zabihah Halal. Hand slaughtered Zabihah Halal.

Unbelievable, huh? It is. Which is why I’ve done my research and have laid out how it all works in this article. For those of you who want to read the details, you can scroll down below. But if you just want to just eat this high-end beef, check out this running list, call up one of the restaurants and do a couple checks to verify the dish is prepared Halal, and enjoy. Continue reading