I have been Muslim for the last 6 years, and have spent the last 5 years of my life in regional Queensland. As a result it is always a blessing to visit my family in Brisbane and see the separate “halal sections” in some Coles stores on the southside of Brisbane and most recently experiencing the ease of accessing halal food in South-West Sydney.
Where I currently live in Cairns, I often see visibly Muslim tourists visiting our beautiful part of the country and will always come go up and say, Salaam! The conversation often flows to, “where can I get halal food?”
This article is a handy guide in two aspects of sourcing and checking which foods in our two main supermarket stores are actually certified halal; EST numbers for meat, and “E” ingredients for additives.
Due to the manufactured backlash in the media back in 2015 around halal certification, many products will not display any sign of them being certified halal which makes it difficult for the Muslim consumer who doesn’t live in majority Muslim areas or is away on holidays.
When I moved to the town of Ayr in 2017, I was one of three Muslims residing in the town. You can imagine my shock then to discover that ALL of the Coles branded Chicken, Lamb and Beef were actually halal certified even in a town with only 3 Muslims. This is not applicable to all Coles stores however.
The first and easiest step to sourcing halal meat is to find the brands that you know are halal certified. For example, Lillydale chicken is halal certified across Australia. If you cannot see any “branded” meats and only have the Coles or Woolworths branded meats, often they will have an “EST” number. This is short for Meat Establishment Number, and links the meat to the domestic abattoir that it was processed at.
The most current website with detailed information to allow you to search for EST numbers is: halalfood.com.au/meat-establishment-number
If none of the meat in the store has an EST number and the manager cannot provide any further information, a trip to the fish and chip shop or local kebab shop might be on the cards.
The second aspect that I hope to help people with is the long list of additives that we have gotten used to in our foods. Unfortunately, most of us look at the back of a packet and see a mix of “E’s” and numbers and don’t have any awareness of whether this food is going to be halal let alone good for us.
The iPhone app, “Halal Check” is a fantastic guide, and allows you to search for particular additives. For example, you can search “E160” and it will list the additive as being “mushbooh” with a paragraph describing the origins of the additive, why it is categorised in that way and what it may also be listed as on the packet (Gamma Carotene).
As the Muslim community grows in Australia, more of us will end up living in regional areas with foods that will not be visibly listed as halal certified despite them being certified. It’s important to build the skills so that people feel comfortable visiting places like Cairns on holidays as well as living in the regions.