Empire Kosher Poultry had to shut down production for (at least) one day Thursday, allegedly because a shipment of chickens that arrived for Thursday’s slaughter were underweight. But because chickens are bred to grow very quickly, holding the chickens over until Monday will allow the birds to gain a significant amount of weight. However, others believe there is another reason for the shutdown.
Empire Kosher Poultry had to shut down production for (at least) one day Thursday, Ha’aretz reports, allegedly because a shipment of chickens that arrived for Thursday’s slaughter were underweight. But because chickens are bred to grow very quickly, holding the chickens over until Monday will allow the birds to gain a significant amount of weight.
However, others believe that the real reason is a reovirus that causes chickens’ leg tendons to tighten and then snap, rendering then non-kosher. Too many of the birds in the shipment meant for Thursday’s slaughter had snapped tendons and were treife, causing Empire to shut down production until Monday.
All chicken producers have been hit with the virus, which reportedly cannot harm humans. A vaccine against the virus is now in wide use.
Empire, probably because it controls its own chicken production from hatching through distribution, was hit much later than most other other producers. Even so, its problem with the virus peaked in late January.
Unlike other kosher producers, Empire reportedly checks flocks in the field for the virus before shipping them to slaughter. If the birds are infected, they aren't shipped.
Empire's spokesperson Elie Rosenfeld told me tonight that there is no shortage and that the reovirus played no role in what he insists is a one-day shut down.
He said that Empire knew Wednesday night that the chickens were light, and decided Thursday morning to close down production for one day rather than slaughter chickens that would not fit its customers' needs.
I asked Rosenfeld how that could possibly not cause a shortage when Passover is 23 days away and other slaughterhouses have to work overtime and add production days to meet production quotas before the holiday.
Rosenfeld told me that Empire's facilities are designed to handle increased production without having to add shifts or production days. He also said that the birds that were originally slated to be slaughtered Thursday would be slaughtered over the next few days as part of regular production.
There is no shortage, he emphasized, and reovirus issues played no role in the brief shutdown.
At any rate, the real push for freshpack chicken for Passover use starts toward the middle of this week.
Whatever its cause, Thursday’s shutdown is news because it comes less than a month before Passover, and Passover’s dietary restrictions cause a large uptick in chicken consumption.
Empire produces poultry products under its own name and under the brand names Nirbater (a hasidic kosher supervision named for Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, the Nirbater Rav, who is also the head kosher supervisor at Empire), and Whole Foods’ brand Kosher Valley.