NEWARK – New Jersey consumers preparing for the upcoming month of Ramadan, can shop with confidence knowing that the Division of Consumer Affairs works year-round to ensure that food vendors live up to their claims when selling foods that are represented as being halal.
The use of halal foods – i.e., those permitted by Islamic dietary rules – is centrally important to many Muslims celebrating the religious holiday of Ramadan, which begins on or about May 5 this year.
“Consumers who shop for halal foods, either in preparation for Ramadan or throughout the year, deserve assurances that that the foods they buy meet their personal standards and interpretation of Islamic dietary guidelines,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “Our announcement today reminds consumers of the work we do throughout the year to ensure honesty and integrity of the vendors who sell halal foods.”
Because "halal" is a religious designation with standards that differ between Muslim communities, the State of New Jersey does not attempt to define halal by statute or regulation.
However, the New Jersey Halal Food Consumer Protection Act ("HFCPA") and the Halal Food Regulations do require businesses to live up to the promises and representations they make when selling or serving food represented as halal.
Businesses are required to prominently display disclosure statements providing important information about the foods they prepare and market as halal, such as whether it contains pork products or alcohol, and whether it was prepared using the same or separate equipment used for non-halal foods.
Under state law, business must accurately provide information about these practices in a disclosure statement readily visible to consumers. The business must also provide the same information to the Division of Consumer Affairs.
Each year, investigators with the Halal Enforcement Unit within the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection (“OCP”) conduct hundreds of inspections to ensure that grocery stores, bakeries, meat markets, street vendors, and other halal food merchants comply with the law.
Investigators check to make sure that the information is prominently displayed on in-store posters, and that those posters match the information contained in the disclosure statements on file with the Division. They also inspect purchase orders, walk-in freezers, food prep stations, and other areas of the establishments to make sure food is being prepared, handled, sold, and/or served in accordance with the disclosure statements.
Investigators are also on the lookout for businesses that advertise halal foods without providing the Division with the required disclosure statements. Those businesses are provided a “Halal Packet” containing information about the state’s halal laws, a copy of a disclosure poster for their store, and a disclosure statement to fill out and return to the Division. The disclosure statements are required to be filled out and returned to the Division within 14 days.
“Religious dietary observances are intensely personal and important for thousands of New Jersey residents. That is why the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs works to make sure consumers are able to make informed decisions when buying food for themselves and their families,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Division is committed to enforcing the law to ensure honesty and transparency in New Jersey’s marketplace.”
Last year the Division inspected 318 halal food businesses on file with the Division and found them all in compliance.
Close to 200 businesses were provided “Halal Packets” in 2018. Three of those businesses were issued final Notices of Violation, and assessed a $2,500 civil penalty each, for failing to return completed disclosure statements to the Division. They are:
An establishment’s failure to return a completed disclosure statement does not necessarily mean that the establishment is offering non-halal products.
To date this year, the Division has inspected 100 businesses on file with the Division and found them all in compliance.
Six businesses have been issued Notices of Violation, and assessed a $2,500 civil penalty each, for allegedly failing to return completed disclosure statements to the Division. They are:
Each of the six businesses has the option of seeking mitigation or requesting an administrative hearing to contest the NOV and civil penalty.
Investigator Murat Botas, of the Division of Consumer Affairs' Office of Consumer Protection, conducted these investigations.
Deputy Attorneys General Jesse Sierant and Robert Holup from the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law is representing the State in these actions.
With the enactment in 2000 of the HFCPA, New Jersey became one of the first states to specifically protect the halal-buying public by requiring food sellers to disclose important information to the public. An exception applies to businesses that sell halal foods in sealed packages from the original producers. If a business sells halal food that is in its original sealed package, the business is exempt from the disclosure requirements.
Sellers of halal foods may additionally choose to be supervised and certified by an independent halal certification agency. While this independent certification has no bearing on the disclosures establishments are required to post under New Jersey law, all halal certification agencies that supervise food dealers in the state must provide the Division of Consumer Affairs with an annually updated list of the names, addresses, and types of establishments they supervise.
Consumers, businesses, religious organizations or halal certifying agencies seeking additional information about the Division's halal food enforcement can call (973) 273-8038.
Consumers, and establishments that sell halal foods, can visit the Division of Consumer Affairs' Halal Enforcement website, for additional information including:
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or (973) 504- 6200.