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As much as 70 tons of halal poultry and meat, and 8,000 meals a day, were planned to be supplied to the 2016 Rio Olympics, but organizers are already looking at increasing these amounts due to an unexpected overwhelming demand, the event's halal food coordinator, the Islamic Center of Brazil, told Salaam Gateway.
Daily demand has so far exceeded 10,000 halal meals a day from both Muslim and non-Muslim athletes and officials.
“The organizing committee of the Rio Olympics is currently looking at increasing the supply of halal food to the event as the halal buffet witnessed remarkable demand from athletes and participants, even non-Muslims,” Nasser Al Khazraji, secretary of the Sao Paulo-based Islamic Center of Brazil, told Salaam Gateway.
“This is a positive thing, of course, and proves that the culture of halal is present in non-Muslim nations,” he said.
This is not the first time the Islamic Center of Brazil is coordinating the provision of halal food to a large sporting event.
During the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the non-profit organization coordinated with most of the hotels and training centers that were receiving delegations from Muslim countries, making visits to kitchens and equipping staff with knowledge.
The experience gained from this project facilitated its work of supervising all catering, preparation, and distribution of halal food for Rio 2016.
“We had been in touch with the Rio Organizing Committee since November 2015, when they were preparing for the catering operations,” said Al Khazraji. “We flew to Rio and met with them several times, and we helped them plan the halal kitchen and restaurant layouts at the Olympics Village”.
During those meetings, the organizers showed the Islamic Center the map of the dining area and pinpointed where the buffets and warehouses would be located.
“The first thing we suggested is that they should have a separate kitchen and buffet for halal food. Based on this recommendation, they modified the map and set up a halal dining area,” Al Khazraji noted.
The committee was responsive and welcomed the center’s suggestions, approving of all the conditions specified with regards to supplying and certifying halal food.
Instead of having one dining area and kitchen as initially planned, the Rio Olympics now has two dining halls and kitchens – one for all types of food and the other exclusively for halal food.
“I believe this was the most important step, considering the risk of contamination and contact with impurities. This was especially relevant in the kitchen so all tools had to be separate,” Al Khazraji highlighted.
The Islamic Center also proposed the set-up of separate warehouses to store halal food that would be served during the event, a step that facilitated their supervision of the products.
For this year’s Olympics, the Center worked through its representatives in Rio de Janeiro to ensure that the warehouses were in close proximity to the Olympics Village and that the halal meat did not mix with non-halal products.
While the Olympics’ organizers directly communicated with the suppliers, the Islamic Center kept an eye on the logistics.
Brazil has nearly 300 slaughterhouses for chicken and meat, but not all meet halal criteria. Therefore, the committee made agreements with Brazilian producers that were already exporting to Muslim countries, explained Al Khazraji.
The Center also provided training to the local cooks and staff who would be working at the halal kitchen, giving them the necessary information about halal food.
UP TO 15 PCT OF DINING AREA FOR HALAL
A massive dining space bigger than two football fields currently caters for all athletes at the Olympics, and nearly 60,000 meals are being prepared daily.
About 10 percent to 15 percent of this area has been reserved for the halal food section, large enough to accommodate an estimated 2,000 Muslim athletes and coaches at any one time.
Overall, the Rio Olympics will host nearly 18,000 athletes and team officials from 205 nations, including all Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries except Kuwait, which was banned from competing as its government was found to have breached an International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy of non-interference in sports legislation.
Additionally, the halal menu was slightly modified by Rio Olympics’ organizers in coordination with the IOC to include Arabic cuisine.
Diners can now choose from Middle Eastern dishes such as kabsa (the national dish of Saudi Arabia, combining rice and meat), couscous (a North African dish of small steamed balls of semolina), and lamb-based recipes.
“They tried as much as possible to make the buffet varied and to offer popular Middle Eastern dishes familiar to (Middle Eastern) Muslim participants,” affirmed Al Khazraji.
PROFILE: ISLAMIC CENTRE OF BRAZIL (CENTRO ISLAMICO NO BRASIL)
The Islamic Center in Brazil was established in 1999 by Sheikh Taleb Al Khazraji, who arrived in the South American country in the late eighties and was the imam of the Mosque of Prophet Mohammed in Sao Paolo for 15 years. He is currently the imam of the Islamic Centre.
An educational, cultural, and social charity institution, the Center houses a large library of Islamic books that have been translated into Portuguese and are regularly exhibited at international book fairs in Brazil.
Within the center, a halal food division is responsible for certifying food locally and for accrediting Brazilian companies to export halal products.
The department supplies halal food to hotels, restaurants, special events, and even ships arriving from Muslim countries. These ships often stay for several weeks at a time and their staff require halal food.
One of the events the Center recently supplied with halal meat was the launch of Bayt Qatar, the temporary venue of Qatar’s Olympic Committee in Brazil.
“We provide these services because Brazil is a non-Muslim country and many of the facilities and companies here need supervision over their ingredients and processes before they can supply the local market or export to Islamic economies,” said Al Khazraji.
“We maintain good relationships with the Muslim community in Brazil as well as with businesses and government authorities.”
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