The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has charged Creation Foods and its vice-president, Kefir Sadiklar, with sending cheddar cheese falsely described as “kosher” to Jewish summer camps in June 2015.
For the first time in Canada, the country’s food inspection agency has laid criminal charges against a businessman and his company for allegedly trying to pass off run-of-the-mill food as kosher.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has charged Creation Foods and its vice-president, Kefir Sadiklar, with sending cheddar cheese falsely described as “kosher” to Jewish summer camps in June 2015. The agency alleges forged documents were created to make it seem like the cheese adhered to Jewish dietary laws.
The regulatory body, which polices food labels across Canada, has laid five charges against Sadiklar and his family-run Woodbridge-based distributor related to cheese products sent to two camps — Camp Moshava near Peterborough and Camp Northland-B’nai Brith in Haliburton.
The agency alleges that forged letters of kosher certification were slipped into boxes of non-kosher Gay Lea Ivanhoe shredded “Ivanhoe Old Cheddar Cheese” that Creation delivered to “strictly kosher” Jewish summer camps in June 2015. Kosher products are typically sold at a higher price than non-kosher products.
In an email to the Star, the federal food inspection agency said this is the first case it “has brought before a provincial court related to the misrepresentation of a kosher food product.”
Sadiklar, 39, is scheduled to make his next appearance in Newmarket court on May 20.
If convicted, he and Creation could face steep fines and even jail time.
The allegations made by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have not been tested in court.
The term “kosher” refers to food that follows Judaism’s strict dietary rules that dictate not only what observant Jews can eat, but how the food is prepared and handled. In the case of making cheese, a rabbi would be responsible for adding the coagulation enzyme at the first stage and certifying that no non-kosher products touched the kosher cheese on the line. Food certified kosher often bears a symbol, such as “COR,” that indicates it has been certified as kosher by a “mashgiach,” a specialized rabbi, and acceptable to consume.
Richard Rabkin, managing director of the Kashruth Council of Canada, which brought the case to authorities, said that for observant Jews, non-kosher food is “spiritual poison” that “affects your soul.” The council is a non-profit that provides kosher certification to about 1,000 businesses across North America — including Gay Lea.
For someone to knowingly serve non-kosher food to those who observe the dietary laws is “negligent and hurtful,” Rabkin said. “In my estimation that’s a terrible thing to do and that’s the way we feel in this case.”
Sadiklar, of Creation Foods, told the Star in a brief interview that he has “so many things to say,” but cannot say them while the matter is before the courts.
He said he thinks the council is “doing the wrong thing against us. They want to see us closing the business, they don’t look for anything else but revenge . . . We say we didn’t do, and they say we did do. I don’t want to put myself in jeopardy.”
How much extra was charged to the camps for what officials say was not kosher cheese is unknown. In the retail world, kosher products are sometimes significantly more expensive than non-kosher products. With cheese sold wholesale, the markup can be as low as 2-3 per cent.
Creation Foods is a distributor of foods such as cheese, but is mainly a manufacturer and distributor of frozen baked and unbaked products to independent bakeries locally and in Montreal. The company billed itself as family owned and operated since 1995, and a firm that counts integrity, quality and customer service as its pillars of success.
“Our philosophy is straightforward: exceptional quality bakery products for our customer’s satisfaction conveniently delivered,” the website states.
Creation Foods held a kosher certificate from the Kashruth Council until 2012 and has now switched to a different kosher certifying company, it said.
The Kashruth Council first discovered what it believes are phoney documents on June 24, 2015, when an employee noticed that some of the boxes of cheese Sadiklar delivered to one of the two overnight camps bore a COR symbol while others did not.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency takes action if a label gives a false impression, such as saying a food is kosher when it isn’t. But it’s up to certifying organizations like the council to enforce the requirements for kosher food.
Companies that comply with and pay for kosher certification charge a premium. For instance, kosher Gay Lea cheese is about two to three per cent more expensive than non-kosher varieties, Gay Lea spokesperson Robin Redstone said.
Back at the overnight camp, the employee asked Sadiklar to prove the remaining cheese was fit to eat, according to synopses and statements the council gave to police and the food inspection agency.
At first, Sadiklar sent in a kosher certificate for the wrong food. But a few hours later, he sent what appeared to be the correct one, a synopsis said.
To be safe, the employee sent the certificate to the council’s headquarters in Toronto to be checked out. There, other employees, also “mashgiachs,” noticed that a single digit in the product code on the kosher certificate had been photoshopped — from a “5” to a “6” — altering the number to make it match the one on the box, and making a non-kosher box of cheese seem kosher.
Meanwhile, the council learned that Sadiklar had delivered about nine boxes of Gay Lea Ivanhoe cheese to the second overnight camp in Haliburton — and had recently dropped in to switch some of the boxes Sadiklar said had grown mouldy, a synopsis said.
When the council’s mashgiach got there, he found only two boxes remaining. Neither had the kosher symbol, yet the certificates said the product was “kosher.”
That’s when Rabkin reached out to a police chaplain he knew at York Regional Police, asking in an email who he should contact regarding this “very unusual but extreme serious kind of fraud. This is “a real hot potato and potentially explosive matter in the Jewish community.” York police passed the case to the food inspection agency.
The agency’s enforcement and investigation services laid the charges in October 2016 — but the information only came to the Star’s attention recently.
The council’s relationship with Sadiklar began in 2011 when the organization gave his company, Creation, kosher certification, permitting the business to put its trademark “COR” symbol on some of its products.
But after a “series of violations,” Rabkin said the council terminated Creation’s certification in June 2012.
In December of that year and again in May 2013, the council sent cease and desist letters to Creation alleging the company had used the COR trademark on non-kosher croissant dough and a lemon-flavoured yogurt cake.
In 2013, the council issued a “kashrus alert” notifying businesses selling Creation’s yogurt cakes that they are not certified as kosher and in fact bear an “unauthorized” COR symbol.
What happened to the cheese? Both summer overnight camps told the Star that none of the non-kosher cheese was consumed by campers. Simon Wolle, director of Camp Northland-B’nai Brith, said his camp “adheres to COR to the highest standard” and staff removed the cheese as soon as it was instructed by COR to do so.
At Camp Moshava, a spokesman said the camp also maintains the “highest diligence” for kosher standards and the cheese was never used at the camp. It sent the non-kosher cheese to a mission for the homeless.