Calgary halal grocers and wholesaler shut down by Alberta Health Services over sales of uninspected meat

A closure order on the door of Mustafa Madani Halal Meat and Groceries in Calgary. It is one of five halal food establishments closed by Alberta Health Services on Friday. (James Young CBC News - image credit)
A closure order on the door of Mustafa Madani Halal Meat and Groceries in Calgary. It is one of five halal food establishments closed by Alberta Health Services on Friday. (James Young CBC News - image credit)

Investigators with Alberta Health Services served closure orders on four halal grocery stores in Calgary on Friday, and another on a Calgary halal warehouse and distribution centre. The outlets are accused of purchasing and reselling uninspected meat to the public, which is against the law in Alberta.

Shawdesi Bazaar Foods and Catering, located in a strip mall east of Calgary International Airport, was ordered closed because "there is evidence that uninspected meat has been purchased and sold at this location," according to the closure order.

A message on the company's phone on Saturday said the business was closed for maintenance and would be back on Monday.

A review of AHS inspection reports shows repeat violations at Shawdesi Bazaar dating to 2021, including several instances of frozen food for which an original source cannot be found.

Bismillah Meat & Grocery in Calgary's northeast advertises a "large inventory of Pakistani grocery, halal meat, Islamic merchandise and international produce." It was also closed over the purchase and sale of uninspected meat, and according to the public health order will remain closed until it meets a long list of conditions, including proving to authorities that meat sold in the establishment comes from an approved source.

No one at Bismillah was answering the phone on Saturday. There are no notices on its Facebook page or website acknowledging the closure order.

One store cited for cockroach infestation

Similar orders were also issued to Mustafa Madani Halal Meat and Groceries in Calgary's Castleridge neighbourhood, and Maher Halal Meat Butchery and Grocery in Southview. Maher was also cited for "a significant cockroach infestation. Live and dead cockroaches were observed throughout the food establishment."

Maher Halal Meat Butchery and Grocery has been cited four times for health violations since June 2021, including having food not labelled to indicate its sources, and selling homemade food.

Cadalow Halal Meat, a wholesale distributor of halal products in Alberta, and its retail outlet, Alta Halal, were also closed for distributing uninspected meat.

A note on Alta Halal's Facebook page states that it is facing "Temporary closure due to pending City of Calgary paperwork."

None of the affected outlets responded to calls and emails from CBC News.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Services confirmed the closure orders. Closing businesses over the purchase and distribution of uninspected meat is rarely done. Closing five outlets in a single day is unprecedented in Alberta.

Uninspected meat can cause serious health threats

Uninspected means officials cannot find a legitimate source for meat being sold to the public.

Under Canada's food safety system, any meat offered for sale must be federally or provincially inspected in order to ensure it is not carrying any agents that cause diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which is found in cattle, or scrapie, which is found in sheep and goats. Inspections also ensure meat isn't infected with bacteria, such as E. coli, Listeria, or several others that cause human illness.

Lynn McMullen, a meat microbiologist and professor at the University of Alberta, stresses the inspection system is important.

"The health of the animal is a must before that animal is slaughtered, and that prevents those animal diseases from getting into the food supply," she said in an interview.  "That's key."

She says uninspected meat can pose a serious danger to the public.

"With an uninspected situation, you don't have that oversight. So ... nobody's looking for signs of disease in that animal. So if it's something systemic, you won't know."

CBC News has been unable to determine the sources of the meat involved in the closure orders.