Assuming you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, how do you get your meat? The store, the restaurant, The Shack at Hillel…it all comes in a crisp, clean package or steaming and savory on a plate. But farmers don’t raise vacuum-sealed bags, of course; they raise
animals and poultry. Let’s see how well you know your kosher meat, and take a look at the process — from the turkey to the table.
For Shabbat dinner this week, November 30, the process would start around October 21.
Poultry is hatched and raised, and animals are bought. Many more animals and birds are bought than actually turn out kosher after being slaughtered, since the kosher meat requirements are very strict.
Around November 25-26, they would be shipped to kosher slaughterhouses such as AgriStar, Empire Kosher (poultry), Griller’s Pride, Wise Poultry, International Kosher Meat Processing Corp., and Wise Organic Pastures.
II. Shechitah (kosher slaughtering):
Shechitah is very complex, with numerous books written solely about the laws (see Arba’ah Turim – Yoreh De’ah 1, 18, 20-25, 29-60). The following is a brief overview of the entire process and different requirements.
• Preparation for shechitah:
The knife (called a chalaf or sakin) must be of a specific length and metal, having no point that could pierce the animal’s throat and cause ikur (tearing of the skin and/or tissue) or chaladah (cutting while the knife is not visible), and having no serration, which could also cause ikur. It is checked for any scratches or imperfections, and must be razor-sharp.
The animal is checked to make sure that it is healthy and uninjured in any way, including bruises. The throat must be clean of any dirt, pebbles, or other foreign materials, and sheep’s necks may be sheared, to prevent chaladah. Before coming in to work, the shochet (slaughterer) immerses himself in a ritual bath, to be spiritually “clean,” and a blessing is made immediately before slaughtering the first animal.
The process is quick and quite simple:
• Animals are slaughtered by a swift knife stroke across the trachea and esophagus, severing arteries and nerves, which causes immediate unconsciousness and death within two seconds of the stroke.
Exsanguination (draining of all blood) follows immediately. The blood is collected and covered during disposal, with another blessing made over “the covering of the blood.”
• Birds are also slaughtered by a swift knife stroke, although it may be across either the trachea or the esophagus, since either leads to the severing of the artery and nerve, and immediate death. The carcasses are also exsanguinated and the blood disposed of; covering is preferred but not necessary.
After shechitah takes place, any of the following factors may render the carcass treif, or non-kosher. Depending on the quality, treif meat is sold either as regular non-kosher meat (since it is still perfectly safe for human consumption) or as animal food.
- Shehiyah – any hesitation or pause during the knife stroke
- Hagramah – cutting outside of the proper area (the trachea and/or esophagus), which is checked by the shochet
- Derasah – pressure applied during the stroke
- Ikur – tearing, rather than slicing the throat tissue
- Chaladah – cutting while the knife is covered by anything (skin, wool, hair, etc.)
The knife is then checked again; if any scratches or imperfections are found, the carcass and all other carcasses from other shochtim’s knives of that batch are considered treif.
III. Dressing the carcasses:
After shechitah, the carcasses are skinned and extraneous fat is removed. In accordance with Jewish law, in commemoration of Jacob being struck in the thigh (see Genesis 32:32-33), the sciatic nerve is removed. Since it is complicated to extract from the hindquarters, in the United States, the entire hindquarters are simply cut off and sold as non-kosher meat. In Israel, where there is a much smaller non-Jewish population, certain rabbis are specially trained to remove the sciatic nerve from the meat.
Forbidden fats (called cheilev), as specified in Jewish law, are also removed at this point.
Cattle carcasses are split along the mid-ventral axis in preparation for further dressing and treatment.
The meat is then fully rinsed off with water between 10 and 26°C to remove any traces of blood and bodily fluids. Congealed blood on the throat slit is scraped off.
Kosher animals must have unblemished, watertight lungs. The lungs are visually checked for punctures or adhesions, which would indicate a problem with the animal’s health that would have resulted in its imminent death (had it not been slaughtered). Lungs with scabs may still be considered kosher if the adhesions are removable and the lungs still watertight (they are actually filled with water to test this). However, such meat is not glatt (also called chalak – your choice of Yiddish or Hebrew) – “smooth” – and to avoid the risk of it being non-kosher, non-glatt meat is sold as treif.
For poultry, the egg sacs of the throat and the entrails are checked for bulges and imperfections.
V. Soaking and salting:
After the meat is certified glatt kosher, it is soaked and salted in order to remove every drop of blood from inside the meat, as the Torah forbids any consumption of blood. Soaking is done in water that is between 10-26°C and is followed by further rinsing with water of the same temperature. The meat is briefly allowed to drip, enough so that the subsequent salting is effective and the salt not washed away.
Salting is done by sprinkling the meat with – what else? – kosher salt, a thick, coarse salt, and allowing the meat to stand for an hour on an inclined or perforated surface. It is then triple-rinsed or soaked.
However, not all meat may be made kosher by salt alone – therefore, organs that are completely saturated with blood, such as the liver, must be broiled to remove every trace of the stuff. It is first rinsed with cold water and sprinkled with a few grains of salt, to aid in the exsanguination.
Before this process begins, poultry wings are sliced completely through in order to ensure that the water penetrates them.
IV. Meat packing and processing:
On November 26-27, the packing process begins. The meat is held at 5-15°C and deboned (if applicable); any additives are added at this point. It is then processed (cured deli meat, hot dogs and ground beef come into being), vacuum-sealed, and held at the same temperature for at least 10 hours before being frozen.
On November 27-28, it is sold to the first meat distributor, such as Alle Processing and Aaron’s Gourmet. The 28-29 may see it sold to a second distributor, such as Morris Kosher, who would then sell it in bulk to stores. Your chicken is now ready for pickup on either the 29 or 30, just in time to be made into Friday night chicken soup.
Of course, you can also buy your meat online, and some companies, such as Griller’s Pride and Wise Organic Pastures, only sell online, cutting the middleman costs. Kosher meat is notoriously expensive, and some prefer the convenience of Internet shopping to the inconvenience of meticulously examining each package to get the cut of steak with the least marbling.
That’s it…from the chicken to the nugget.
Enjoy your soup!