TORONTO — A Toronto-area food manufacturer and distributor is facing criminal charges after allegedly trying to pass off ordinary cheese as a kosher product.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has laid five charges against Creation Food Co. and one of its officials, alleging the company forged documents to knowingly sell non-kosher cheddar cheese to Jewish summer camps in the summer of 2015.
The alleged forgery came to light when a kitchen manager at one of the two Ontario camps discovered irregularities in the labelling and paperwork related to the cheese, which had already been delivered to two Ontario camps.
An organization that certifies food as kosher in Canada alleges that Creation altered certificates in an effort to pass the cheese off as kosher when it was not.
Court documents show the CFIA laid charges against Creation and executive Kfir Sadiklar, alleging they created and used forged documents as well as unlawfully sold non-kosher food to the two camps.
Neither the CFIA nor Sadiklar responded to requests for comment.
The allegations against Creation and Sadiklar were levelled by the Kashruth Council of Canada, an organization that certifies food as kosher throughout Canada. The council is commonly known as COR, the same label applied to foods that have passed the company's certification process and have been deemed suitable for those following a kosher diet.
The word "kosher" comes from Hebrew and means "fit for use or fit for consumption," according to COR managing director Richard Rabkin.
It relates to a body of laws found in both the Bible and Talmud and is relied upon by many different groups in addition to the Jewish community including vegetarians, people of other faiths, those with certain allergies or others who simply prefer the fact that the food has gone through a third-party certification process.
Rabkin said the specific rules that dictate whether or not a food is considered kosher vary according to the product in question. Spinach may be deemed non-kosher if it has come into contact with insects, for instance, while cheese can only be considered kosher if a rabbi has personally poured in the enzyme that helps the product coagulate and then supervised the rest of production to make sure no non-kosher ingredients are included.
Creation received COR certification for its manufactured food, Rabkin said, but the company ran afoul of the certification criteria and lost its status in 2012 after numerous infractions.
The company continued to act as a distributor of other products that were certified kosher, which is how it resurfaced on COR's radar in 2015, Rabkin said.
COR's statement of claim alleges that Creation sold a batch of Gay Lea Foods' Ivanhoe Old Cheddar Cheese to both the Moshava and Northland B'nai Brith summer camps in June 2015.
Gay Lea does produce a kosher version of the same product which has been approved by COR and which has a unique certificate and product code associated with it, Rabkin said.
Documents allege that the kitchen manager at Camp Moshava noticed that the package of cheddar cheese did not carry the COR label as usual and emailed Creation seeking clarification.
COR said Sadiklar emailed the manager a copy of the certificate that did not look quite right, prompting further investigation by the certification council.
The product code was not listed in COR's database, Rabkin said, adding a close examination of the certificate indicated the code had been altered.
"It was very obvious to us that somebody had photoshopped this document to make it look like the non-kosher cheese was in fact kosher," he said.
Rabkin called the police, who then turned the matter over to the CFIA. The agency laid charges against Creation and Sadiklar on Oct. 24, 2016.
The CFIA said Tuesday it woudn't comment as the case was before the court.
The agency said it receives an average of 40 complaints annually from consumers about potential food misrepresentation and investigates each one.
"The CFIA verifies compliance using various methods, such as investigations into complaints, facility or retail inspections, as well as label reviews and laboratory testing of products, including verification of the nutrient content or calories in the food," the agency said in an email.
Experts have said food fraud is a difficult crime to crack because those aware of the practice have little incentive to act as whistleblowers.
At a recent conference in Quebec City, CFIA's deputy chief food safety officer Aline Dimitri said science is no longer enough to combat food fraud, which has become a borderless issue.
"We are developing scientific methods to help and detect, we are working with university centres, but it's no longer enough," she said, calling for closer collaboration among regulators.
The CFIA has previously laid criminal charges for fraudulent practices. In July 2014, the agency laid charges after it discovered Mucci Pac Ltd. packaged and Mucci International Marketing Inc. sold imported greenhouse vegetables as a product of Canada over a period of 15 months. An Ontario court of Justice in Windsor, Ont., ordered the two companies and two directors to pay $1.5 million total in fines and sentenced them to a three-year probation period in June 2016.
— With files from Aleksandra Sagan
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