Cardboard No More

June 13, 2013

Similar to many other industries, kosher pizza has finally come of age. Whereas many years ago, kosher pizza was limited to one brand, and its texture (and taste) resembled cardboard more than pizza, today’s kosher market is flooded with an abundance of top-quality product in a
multitude of varieties.

The OU is proud to certify the large bulk of kosher pizza; in fact, nearly all recognized brands of kosher pizza bear the OU symbol. Our certification extends to internationally famous pizzerias, domestic frozen pizza factories, and even some Italian pizza companies.

What is Involved in Certifying Pizza as Kosher?

Ingredients: The most sensitive ingredient in standard pizza is cheese. Kosher hard cheese has a special requirement that it be rabbinically supervised from setting to packaging; mere assurance that the cheese’s ingredients are kosher is not enough. Thus, only cheese which is manufactured under constant rabbinic watch is permitted.

Although sauce and spices are not encumbered by special supervision requirements, they too must be kosher-approved. Many tomato sauces and pastes are processed in plants which also handle non-kosher meat and/or cheese; thus, pizza sauce sources must be carefully examined for kosher status. So, too, many spices must be verified as to kosher specifications, as the OU needs to assure that the spices are processed in an innocuous environment and are free from infestation.

Processing: Although many OU-certified pizza plants are all-kosher, others are not, and the OU therefore needs to set up elaborate systems for production, which ensure kosher status of ingredients and equipment.

All-kosher pizza plants often operate without fulltime rabbinic supervision. In such cases, the OU visits frequently to monitor the use of all ingredients. Kosher pizza cheese (made under special supervision, as noted above) must be sealed and signed by the supervising rabbi at the cheese plant, and OU visits to pizza facilities must include verification of seals on all cheese.

Non-kosher plants, which schedule separate kosher productions, pose a much greater challenge.

There are two types of such plants:
(a) Cold-process plants apply all pizza ingredients at ambient temperatures. In such facilities, the oven is used only for baking plain pizza crust (or shells); sauce, cheese, spices and any additional toppings are applied once the dough is cool.

These facilities are simpler to deal with from a kosher perspective, as the non-kosher cheese (and any other ingredients) used during non-kosher production does not have hot contact with equipment, thus alleviating the need for kosherization (kosher sanitizing after hot non-kosher use). Nevertheless, the presence of non-kosher residue on belts which convey product under sauce and cheese stations and on cutting and packaging equipment requires thorough, abrasive cleansing before kosher campaigns. Full-time rabbinic supervision is needed to take care of these procedures, as well as to assure segregation of non-kosher ingredients during kosher productions and to monitor the use of kosher packaging materials.

(b) Hot-process plants bake the entire pizza — including toppings — in the oven. Thus, regular nonkosher runs utilize the oven for non-kosher cheese (and perhaps meat and other non-kosher ingredients), rendering the oven fully non-kosher and requiring complete kosherization prior to kosher production.

In such plants, the rabbinic field representative must see to it that the oven is heated to its maximum, which must be at least 950 F. Otherwise, a blow-torch is necessary to scald the oven’s interior. So, too, kosher product must be made on kosher-dedicated baking pans, which are sealed by the supervising rabbi between each kosher campaign. If dedicated pans are not used, the baking pans need to be passed through the oven during its kosherization or torched directly at 950 F (quite a scary scene, for those of us who have witnessed it).

All belts, trays and holding equipment which contact hot non-kosher pizza subsequent to its exiting the oven must be kosherized with boiling water. Practically, this is usually accomplished by using a steam generator (“genny” ). Steam is directed for long periods at all parts and equipment requiring kosherization, so that the steam condenses on the surface of the equipment and heats it to its maximum.

As in the case of cold-process plants, full-time rabbinic supervision is necessary for the entirety of kosher runs (and kosherization beforehand), and cold-use equipment (such as conveyors and packaging machinery) must be cleansed, ingredients must be monitored, etc.

Food-Service Establishments:
The above protocol is standard for all frozen pizza plants. However, the OU certifies many retail establishments whose main fare is pizza, and the kosher programs at these facilities have additional features.

In a food-service setting, the OU requires full-time on-site rabbinic supervision, despite the establishment being all-kosher. Many such establishments are Jewishowned, and are thus subject to a special requirement that a portion of each batch of dough — called challah — be separated as a tithe prior to use. The on-site rabbi usually handles this procedure. So, too, the use of fresh additives in retail pizza operations presents the need for careful inspection before use, as certain types of produce are very prone to infestation. The on-site OU rabbinic supervisor must be trained to target and inspect all such ingredients. (Included in the list of kosher-sensitive fresh produce are spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and many leafy spices.)

The OU is proud to certify the following pizza companies and retail establishments whose main fare is pizza: Amnon Kosher Pizza, Continental Food Products, Eddie’s Broadway J-2 NYC Pizza (Brooklyn, NY and Manhattan locations), Il Patrizio, Macabee Foods, Mendelsohn’s Pizza, Mey Trading and Upscale Foods.