All in a Day’s Work (Actually Many Days): Twin Rivers and Kosherization

August 22, 2008

The creation and kosherization of a dedicated kosher glycerin system at Twin Rivers Technologies was a formidable task from its very onset. Although Twin Rivers, the largest fatty acid producer in the United States, had been producing kosher laundry grade fatty acids for a number of years, the idea of a kosher glycerin line had always been considered too challenging an operation for the Quincy, MA facility to reasonably undertake. When a combination of factors made the project theoretically feasible, Twin Rivers seized the moment and capitalized on the opportunity.

This extensive project – shepherded from beginning until end by Ken Thode, Twin Rivers Senior Vice President – began with the company’s creation of a plan of action. Ken gathered the Twin Rivers team of professionals – Jeff Palumbo, Director of Operations; Joe Wagner, Director of Quality/Product Development; Jay McNeff, Vice President of Engineering; and Rocky Beck, Logistics Manager — to devise a strategy to accomplish this goal.

Years of experience with OU Kosher policy in the production of fatty acids had provided them with considerable key insight into the requirements and degree of separation that would be required to produce a reliably, verifiable dedicated kosher glycerin line in the midst of a plant that would simultaneously be processing thousands of pounds of tallow on the plant’s other systems. They painstakingly mapped out the entire route the line would take, identifying the vessels that would need to be dedicated to this product and determining the numerous points where existing lines would need to be cut off and isolated from the rest of the plant. Finally, having presented OU with a detailed proposal – complete with extensive drawings and highly technical descriptions – they awaited a response.

Their answer was not long in coming. In the early hours of a cold, rainy morning in February, Rabbi Abraham Juravel and I boarded a Delta Shuttle at LaGuardia Airport, headed to Boston and a meeting with Twin Rivers to discuss the proposal. Following a harrowing cab ride through bustling Quincy (where we passed John Quincy Adams’s original house, complete with outdoor facilities and what the taxi driver told us was the original aluminum siding), we arrived at the plant. We were immediately spirited up to the third floor “War Room.” This cavernous room had been prepared for our meeting. The walls were decked out with numerous charts, boards and diagrams showing the myriad of details the company had addressed in its planning.

Over the course of the next number of hours – including a kosher “working” lunch consisting of a variety of tasty kosher carrot and celery sticks hand-selected by Jeff Palumbo at a local supermarket – the project was discussed in exacting detail, and a timeline was created, establishing target dates for the ultimate accomplishment at each stage. Following this meeting, Rabbi Juravel and I toured the entire length of the proposed line, assessing each piece of equipment and length of pipe. A number of unanticipated issues were uncovered during this walk-through; an open discussion between the rabbis and the plant of each of these issues yielded mutually agreeable solutions to each point of concern. The rabbis’ day concluded with an intense evaluation of the extensive details of the project, over bowls of complimentary kosher popcorn, during a hectic trip on a ferryboat to Boston’s Logan Airport.

Over the next six weeks, emails and phone calls went back and forth between the plant and Rabbis Juravel and Goldberg. I conducted a follow up on-site visit in mid-March, to monitor Twin Rivers’ progress in implementing the plan and to iron out the remaining minutia of the kosherization process that was to take place at the end of the month. I explained that a requirement of the kosherization would be that all lines and equipment be absolutely clean and free of any residue or material that would interfere with the steam and water used to kosherize making contact with any of the surfaces.

In order to verify this, it would be necessary for the rabbis to visually inspect for cleanliness any and all parts of the system that were to be part of the line prior to beginning the actual kosherization. Ken pointed out that this would include the splitter column, which is 15 stories tall, and could only be accessed by climbing a narrow, slippery ladder attached to the outside of the column. It was then that I realized that I had a previous engagement scheduled for the morning of the kosherization, and that I would not be arriving at the plant until later in the afternoon, when the kosherization would already be well underway. To my great dismay, it would have to be Rabbi Juravel who would be making that climb.

No challenge was too great for the innovation, initiative and creativity of the TRT-OU partnership to overcome. It looked like the program might have hit a significant snag when inside parts of the splitter column needed to be verified as clean and then replaced before kosherizing, a process that could take the better of two days and would delay getting the plant up and running. Due to prior commitments, neither rabbi was available to travel to Quincy to sign off in the days preceding the kosherization. No matter! As the saying goes, if you can’t bring the rabbi to the reactor, bring the reactor to the rabbi. Hundreds of internal parts from the splitter column were loaded onto a truck in Quincy and driven by Ken Thode to Rabbi Juravel’s home in upstate New York, where the Rabbi and Ken verified the cleanliness over a cup of coffee and a home cooked meal.

Sunday, March 30, the kosherization began. For two long days, each piece of line and equipment was reviewed for cleanliness and then kosherized with either hot water or steam. The entire length of piping was reviewed and verified to be spotlessly clean; all connections to non-kosher lines were eliminated; blanks and phalanges were installed; red arrows stating “kosher” were affixed to the entire system; different parts of the line and equipment were isolated piece by piece and saturated with boiling water, as the kosherization strategically proceeded, running like clockwork according to the plan that had taken days and weeks to develop. The precision of the plan was amazing, with each new segment ready to go immediately after the previous part had been successfully kosherized.

There were many highlights along the way, from the very beginning. As I sat that first afternoon, awaiting my 1:00 p.m. flight to Boston, I received a call from Ken Thode, reporting that Rabbi Juravel had just reached the top of the column and was looking inside from 120 feet up. My suggestion to Ken that they quickly remove the ladder was rewarded the following day when — as I lay on my back inside a large storage tank, cleaning away the remaining small spots of tallow residue with a metal brush – I heard Rabbi Juravel’s voice from the outside suggesting they quickly seal the tank shut. Even the overnight hours were enlightening, as Rabbi Juravel skillfully showed me how it is possible to turn a raw chicken into a delicious chicken stew, using only a hotel microwave, a plastic bag and an ice bucket.

The entire kosherization concluded remarkably successfully, without any major glitches. This was due to the extreme professionalism and cooperation of the people of Twin Rivers and their “you need it, Rabbi, we can do it” attitude. I have since returned to the plant to approve some of the ongoing modifications being made to the system and to review the effectiveness of the program, and am pleased to report that everything is running smoothly. The success of a project of this scale proves once again that – working together – Twin Rivers and OU can make great things happen.


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