Home GetFoodNYC- Delivering Confidence in Crisis

GetFoodNYC- Delivering Confidence in Crisis

How AHF worked with caterers, government authorities, and the community to provide halal meals to those who needed it the most.

Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of Americans. It changed the way Americans lived, worked, and played. This change was clearly evident in America’s largest metropolis, New York City. As the New York Times put it, “It is a canvas upon which nearly every element of the pandemic played out, from the collapse in tourism and employment to the rise in crime and the strain on city services.”

Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in a span of months in America’s most treasured city. This intensified food insecurity for vulnerable populations who may have been struggling even before the pandemic all the while, inducing new cohorts of individuals who were now considered food insecure. On the other hand, small businesses were struggling to make ends meet with strict regulations and declining demand. Restaurants were limited to take-out and outdoor dining and caterers’ demand cratered as social, corporate, and celebratory events were disappearing. Many in the food-service industry were on the verge of closing. 

What makes this NYC so special, its creative energy mixed with a relentless pursuit of excellence combined with its rich diversity shined through even during the hardest of times. The city government initiated the GetFoodNYC program to deliver meals to NYC residents in need of meals who may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The GetFoodNYC program balanced solutions to the delicate equation of problems between producers and consumers by circulating bid opportunities for meals that were meant to be delivered at no cost to New Yorkers who needed them. With NYC’s rich diversity, a differentiated set of requisitions were placed on the basis of the dietary restrictions of residents such as kosher, vegetarian, and halal. 

Bids came in from many food-service vendors across the city seeking a new revenue opportunity in dire times. This posed a unique challenge. Beyond price, what other factors from a quality and safety standpoint would government stakeholders use to determine the awards of the contracts. This becomes further complicated when it comes to meals that were to be delivered in accordance with religious dietary guidelines. 

The simplest way to determine compliance with religious dietary guidelines was to mandate the relevant certification for the respective dietary guideline. Potential vendors submitting bids to supply the city with halal meals were required to have halal certification from a recognized authority.  Similarly, Kosher bids required vendors to have kosher certification from a recognized authority in kosher certification in accordance with the laws of Kashrut. 

The city maintained that “The proof of Halal certification was crucial in providing our clients with a reassurance that all food offered to them in association with this program was in line with the religious dietary beliefs.”

This standardization allowed vendors to produce meals under the supervision and certification of a 3rd party certifying agency that determined compliance with international standards at every stage of the production process.

The challenge yet remained as most of the vendors did not have the halal certification in place and with the expediency of the situation, the bid deadline created an urgency to obtain the certification in a timely manner.

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The proof of Halal certification was crucial in providing our clients with a reassurance that all food offered to them in association with this program was in line with the religious dietary beliefs.

Jonathan Silverstein

Representative of the Agency Chief Contracting Office

Tailored

Solution

Halal foodservice certification can be an intensive process on the part of the certifying agency as there can be thousands of ingredients to vet for compliance. Vendors interested in bidding for the halal contract reached out to AHF, albeit frantically, seeking to obtain the certification on an expedient basis, less than 2 weeks to be specific. For many, it was the first time they had looked into halal certification. 

AHF began to dedicate its highly experienced staff resources to assisting vendors to obtain halal certification. 

Determining the Halal Compliance Status of Vendors

Halal foodservice certification has two critical components: 

  1. The production facility 
  2. The meal program

There are 15 main criteria for evaluating the production facility:

  1. Legal Status of the company
  2. Existing regulatory approvals (USDA, NSF, SQF, etc.)
  3. Internal Halal Committee
  4. Production flow charts
  5. Equipment used in the production process
  6. Facility general sanitation specifications
  7. Sanitation protocols and procedures for production equipment
  8. External contamination prevention measures
  9. Cross-contamination prevention measures
  10. Packing materials 
  11. Labeling conformity with federal labeling regulations as well as halal.
  12. Storage SOPs and cross-contamination prevention measures at this stage
  13. Transportation methods and protocols
  14. Determining if any animal product/by-product is used in the manufacturing process, cleaning, and sanitation process, or packaging
  15. Determining if any alcohol is used in the manufacturing process, cleaning, and sanitation process, or packaging

Meanwhile, there are a few main criteria for the evaluation of the meal program:

1.The halal certification status of all protein vendors: Protein vendors should be certified by a bonafide certifying agency recognized by AHF.

2.The halal compliance status of all other ingredients

       a.The ingredients should primarily be free from

             i.Non-halal certified animal derivatives 

            ii.Ethanol residuals above 5000PPM

Certification

AHF’s technical and religious staff worked diligently with company owners, quality assurance personnel, and various other departments to determine compliance with international halal standards.An intense couple of weeks followed where extremely efficient processes and strong communication lines between stakeholders were leveraged to ascertain the halal compliance status of the vendors. 

Within a few weeks, vendors who complied with AHF certification requirements and completed the certification process successfully were awarded halal certificates and were now officially recognized by the city government as being halal certified.

Statistics

Million

Meals Halal-Certified

million+

Budgeted for Emergency Meal Program

Weeks

Average Certification Period

Outcome

The companies who now obtained halal certification were able to meet the contract requirements and the city now had the ability to determine the contract award.

After the completion of the program, AHF reached out to the Jonathan Silverstein, the Agency Chief Contracting Officer to share his experience with the halal program.

Experience

How many halal meals did your program provide to date? 

To date, the Get food program provided approximately 9.8 million Halal meals to residents of New York City facing food insecurity since the onset of the pandemic. 

How was your experience working with AHF? 

Overall we found AHF, as a certifying agency to several of the City’s Halal food vendors, to be excellent, and extremely responsive to all our official city inquiries. AHF made themselves available to offer clarity regarding general information about Halal food, and were extremely transparent in their ongoing role as a certifying agency for the facilities of our programs Halal vendors.

What role does halal certification play in the bidding process for food service contracts?

All vendors looking to provide Halal food in association with this program needed to prove to the Get Food Program that both their food, and their facilities, were officially certified to provide Halal food. Any vendor unable to provide proof of their certification from a national recognized certifying board was not able to be considered for participation in the city’s food program.  The proof of Halal certification was crucial in providing our clients with a reassurance that all food offered to them in association with this program was in line with the religious dietary beliefs.

What is a memorable story or event from the halal program?

 While there is no singular Halal related event that sticks out as specifically memorable, the overall process of learning about both the rules and religious requirements related to the Halal food process, and the certification of Halal vendors, was both enjoyable and extremely enlightening.   

How do you feel halal certification “Inspired Trust” in the supply chain for stakeholders? 

For clients to know that the food they were getting met the with the their religious dietary requirements, and that it came from a nationally and internationally recognized certifying agency, meant that we were able to provide peace of mind for them during an otherwise stressful and worrisome time in their lives.  

 

How efficient was the process?

Overall the process was extremely efficient which we are able to attribute to the high level of communication between AHF and the program managers at the Get Food Program.

 

What were your main challenges in maintaining halal compliance? 

Making sure that regular inspection of the facilities being used took place, and that surprise inspections of the food preparation were also taking place. Obviously, during a pandemic, when in person contact is highly discouraged, such inspections are very difficult to conduct, however we found that the peace of mind offered by these inspections are vital to the overall success of the program as they reassure community leaders and clients that all religious dietary standards are being strictly adhered to.  

 

What advice would you give other government institutions looking to implement halal programs? 

In general, we found there to be a lot of misinformation circulating about both what makes food Halal certified, as well as the overall process conducted by certifying agencies when providing vendors and their food preparation facilities with their Halal certification. We strongly suggest that all food programs conduct their due diligence in regard to the Halal certification process and make sure that vendors are certified by legitimate certifying agencies before agreeing to use them. We also strongly suggest that any certifying agency being used be agreeable and available to answer any question you may have in a timely manner and inclusive manner.

testimonial image

For clients to know that the food they were getting met the with the their religious dietary requirements, and that it came from a nationally and internationally recognized certifying agency, meant that we were able to provide peace of mind for them during an otherwise stressful and worrisome time in their lives.

Jonathan Silverstein

Representative of the Agency Chief Contracting Office
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woman working

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