New York – Feather Problem With Kosher Chickens And Why

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    Inspection by trained rabbis is one of the important differences between kosher and regular processing New York – Kosher chickens seem to have more feathers still attached than do non-kosher chickens. The skin is often torn as well. Why?

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    I’d always wondered this myself, and the question came up when I was speaking recently to a REAP (Retired Executives and Professionals) group in Roslyn.

    Cooks of all religions buy kosher chickens because they tend to be tastier and juicier. During the koshering process, the birds are soaked and salted and, as advocates of brining know, this lends the meat more flavor and a moister texture.

    But it turns out that another aspect of the koshering process contributes to “the feather problem.”

    Conventional chickens are soaked in hot water before they are plucked. In the same way that it’s easier to pluck your eyebrows immediately after you get out of a hot shower, chicken feathers are easier to pluck once the birds have come out of a hot bath.

    Kosher chickens, however, cannot be soaked in hot water – that would be akin to cooking them before koshering them, which is forbidden by Jewish law. (The text governing this area is section 68:10 of the Yoreh De’ah, part of the 14th century legal code Arba’ah Turim.)

    I’ll quote here from an article, by Pan Demetrakakes, about how Empire Kosher processes chicken. It ran in the September 1999 issue of Food Processing Magazine:

    “Removal of feathers is especially problematic for kosher plants, because Kashrus forbids the use of heated water in processing. The birds must go through eight defeathering machines that use cold water, each of whose rubber fingers use different motions. Even so, many feathers and pinfeathers remain; [Empire’s then-COO James] Reed says that about 70 workers downstream of evisceration are devoted entirely to removing residual feathers …

    “Reed estimates that because of the requirements of kosher processing, Empire’s evisceration line is about twice as long as that of a non-kosher plant of comparable size.”

    Empire’s own Web site acknowledges the issue. The cold water “closes up the follicles in the skin and makes feather removal very difficult. There are an average of 8,325 feathers on a chicken. We try to remove them all. We have a line devoted to feather removal. We have added additional people to hand-remove excess feathers.”

    Furthermore, because of the difficulty of plucking a cold bird, “sometimes the skin gets torn during processing and feather removal.”

    The Jewish Star had an interesting article in 2007 about empire chicken and why there are still feathers, you can read it here


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