NEWARK, NJ – New Jersey consumers who shop for halal foods, either in preparation for the approaching month of Ramadan or throughout the year, can rest assured that the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs requires all food vendors to live up to their promises when selling foods that are represented as being halal, just as the Division does for the sale of kosher foods.
“Consumers who seek out halal or kosher foods – whether for religious, sanitary, health, or other reasons – must be able to rely on the honesty and integrity of the vendors who sell those foods,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “New Jersey law protects consumers without crossing the line between religion and state, by requiring businesses to disclose information that will let consumers decide whether a halal or kosher food item meets their personal standards.”
Ramadan this year will begin on or about June 17, with variations based on the observances of different Muslim communities. Observers will typically mark the month by fasting each day, followed by a large meal after sunset. The month concludes with a joyful gathering with family. The use of halal foods – those permitted by Islamic dietary rules – is centrally important to this observance.
Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee said, “New Jersey’s Muslim population is the second-largest by percentage of any state – and many Muslim individuals and businesses come here from New York for good-quality halal foods. Our laws help ensure a fair and honest marketplace in the sale of these foods, which in turn benefits a significant part of our economy.”
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. But New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act requires businesses to live up to the promises and representations they make when selling merchandise, including food, to the public.
In addition, with the enactment in 2000 of the Halal Food Consumer Protection Act, 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. For example:
- Establishments that hold themselves out as selling, preparing or maintaining halal foods must conspicuously display a poster that discloses specific business practices. This information will enable each consumer to determine whether the products meet the consumer’s personal standards and interpretation of Islamic dietary guidelines.
- For example, restaurants must disclose whether their prepared foods contain pork products or alcohol. If a grocery store sells both halal and non-halal foods it must disclose that fact, and disclose whether it uses the same or separate cutting boards, refrigerators, etc. for halal and non-halal foods. These and other practices are permitted under New Jersey law, so long as the business accurately discloses the information in a disclosure poster that is readily visible to consumers. The business must provide the same information to the Division of Consumer Affairs..
- An exception applies to businesses that sell halal foods in sealed packages from the original producers. If all halal food is in its original package, the business is exempt from the disclosure requirements.
- Sellers of halal foods may choose to be supervised and certified by an independent halal certification agency. All halal certification agencies that supervise food vendors in New Jersey must provide the Division of Consumer Affairs with an annually updated list of the names, addresses, and types of establishments they supervise.
The Division works year-round to inspect halal establishments and ensure the accuracy of the information they disclose to the public. Such establishments include grocery stores, bakeries, meat markets, street vendors, and others. If the Division finds violations, sanctions can range from advice to correct the conduct to formal action seeking injunctive relief, civil penalties, costs and attorney’s fees.
Investigator Ediz Laypan, assigned to the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs, conducts the Division’s halal investigation and enforcement efforts.
Consumers, businesses, religious organizations or halal certifying agencies seeking additional information about the Division’s halal food enforcement can call 973-792-4217.
Information for Consumers and Halal Food Selling Establishments:
Consumers, and establishments that sell halal foods, can visit the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Halal Enforcement website, http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/halal, for additional information including:
- Frequently Asked Questions on the Division’s Halal Enforcement: http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/halal/Pages/FAQ.aspx
- Consumer Brief: “Buying Halal Foods” http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/News/Consumer%20Briefs/buying-halal-foods.pdf
- Information for Halal Food Establishments: http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/halal/Pages/letters.aspx
- New Jersey’s Halal Consumer Protection Act and Halal Food Regulations: http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/halal/Pages/regulationsaspx
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.