The Case of the Baffling Bialy

August 1, 2005

The question had haunted him for years. If there was one sore point in an otherwise legendary career, it was Mac’s inability to find a problem with the OU.
GAZING AT HIS REFLECTION in the gritty office window, Milton “Mac” Donald, Kosher Private I, was impressed at the new dimension seven days without shaving gave his appearance. “Not bad,” he mused to himself. “At least I look the part.” A wisp of confectionary sugar escaped from the bubble gum cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth as Mac leaned back in his creaking, rusty chair and pondered yet again his 30 years of solving kosher mysteries. Absorbed in his thoughts, his gaze fell upon a dogeared copy of the latest Behind the Union Symbol that lay open on his desk. “Sure, sure, sure, yada, yada, yada, same old, same old,” he muttered under his breath.“660,000 certified products, 5,100 facilities, 81 countries and growing. Those OU rabbis are just too good at what they do. How come OU always seems to get it right?”

The question had haunted him for years. If there was one sore point in an otherwise legendary career, it was Mac’s inability to find a problem with the OU. Sure, there had been stellar moments. Like the time he uncovered the Low Carb K symbol accidentally placed on sugar coated pasta fried in lard. Or when his determined investigation found that the Fishy K allowed a company to produce “certified” octopus hearts. But, despite a long and glorious career of finding mistakes of kosher producers and certifiers, Mac had never discovered a reason to fault the OU. “Those rabbis are just too good,” he muttered again to himself. “What I wouldn’t give to catch them making a mistake, at least once.” It was the prize he craved more than anything in life. It had become his obsession.

Mac’s reverie was interrupted by a voice informing him,“You have voicemail.”“ Thanks, Edith” Mac responded mindlessly to his secretary, who stood by his desk pointing at the flashing message light. Picking up the phone, Mac listened to the first words of the message and then sat bolt upright. “Sufferin’ schedule A!” he gasped, as his bubblegum cigarette dropped to the floor, “It’s the kosher mystery of the millennium!” “What is it Mac?” the secretary asked breathlessly. His face ghost white, Mac stopped to compose himself before answering. “The OU on Grandma Bailey’s Butter Bialys is missing!”

Edith’s scream and the sight of her fainting on the floor could not prevent the thought from entering his mind in the excitement of the moment. His face flushed as he stopped short to revel in it. “This might be it!,” Mac gloated inwardly.“ Thirty years and I finally will get the OU!” Stepping over Edith, he ran toward the door, smashing the candy cigarette on his way out and feeling like a gumshoe for the first time in years.

Mac Donald, Kosher Private I, rushed like a madman to the scene. Grandma Bailey’s Bialys was on the far side of town, deep in the dark recesses of a fading industrial park that had clearly seen better days. Mac flung open the car door and raced into the facility, rushing down the hall to the production area. He had barely gotten his hair and beard covers on when he collided with the plant manager, a heavyset man named Ron DePlant. Hair disheveled, eyes open wider than jumbo bagels boiled in bitter batter, the man responsible for the operations of the facility was clearly a man in crisis.

“Calm yourself,” Mac urged DePlant, sitting him down on a barrel marked “rework” that was full of recently returned product. “Get a grip, Man! Now, tell me how this happened from the beginning, and don’t you dare leave anything out.”

THE PROBLEM

“Well,” DePlant responded, trying hard to focus, “as I’m sure you’ve heard, Grandma Bailey’s finally received OU approval to begin selling our bialys in packages with the OU symbol. All our cake products have been OU D for years, but the OU never certified our trademark bialys because they contained butter, and OU cannot certify bread if it is dairy. As the kosher market boomed, public outcry for our bialys to become OU was so overwhelming that it couldn’t be ignored. 10,000 people picketed our headquarters.We had to do something. Marketing forced R&D to reformulate the product using an artificial butter flavor, the rabbi kosherized the equipment, and we started getting orders for OU bialys like they were going out of style.”

DePlant pulled an old label from the rework barrel he was sitting on and took a new one from the shelf in front of him. “Just look at the labels yourself and you can see the difference.” Sure enough, Mac observed, the one without the symbol says butter in the ingredients, but the one with the OU says artificial butter flavor.That OU sure makes the label more attractive and appealing to the consumer. Just kind of jumps right off of the label at you. Definitely a brilliant marketing move.Very interesting, Mac thought, but not very helpful.

“Thanks for the history lesson, DePlant, but what’s all that got to do with the price of poppy seeds in Poughkeepsie?” Mac drummed his fingers impatiently.

“But that’s the whole problem!” yelled DePlant, who had begun to lose his composure yet again. “The rabbi arrived here an hour ago and went through his normal inspection with Ken Yukleenit, one of our maintenance guys. When he finished, he looked around and got this concerned look on his face. He went upstairs to the main offices and then, five minutes later, old Grandma Bailey herself came vaulting down to the plant floor and told them to quarantine the OU film immediately and to keep packing the bialys in the old film. I was on my extended plant manager executive lunch break when the rabbi was here and, by the time I returned, he had rushed off to an emergency. We sat down and analyzed our production from beginning to end. We haven’t changed a thing since we got the OU approval for the bialys. There’s not a reason in the world that our product doesn’t meet OU standards. I tried to ask old Grandma Bailey but she had already left for her pole vaulting practice. That’s when we called you. Only the famous Mac Donald, world’s most renowned kosher Private I, could figure this one out.”

Mac shook off the compliment with his trademark humility. “You’re right about that,” he acknowledged. He paused to gather his thoughts. Years of kosher investigation had taught him to retain his laser focus, but the excitement was pulsating within him.There was no other explanation for the course of events other than a mistake on the part of the OU. His life’s dream was within his grasp. He just had to remember to think clearly.

“We must carefully retrace the rabbi’s steps,” he told the sweating DePlant.“Only then will we know what he might have seen.” The plant manager summoned the maintenance person who had escorted the rabbi through the facility. He appeared seconds later.

“Show us exactly where the rabbi went, what he said and what he did,” Mac barked at the nervous KenYukleenit. “Don’t leave out even one detail, no matter how small!”

The three men walked the route the rabbi had taken, speaking to every employee on the way. Yukleenit stated that the rabbi had first gone to receiving. Mac almost came to blows with Justin Thyme, the warehouse foreman, over Mac’s insinuation that receiving personnel had been using an out-of-date schedule A discovered laying in the receiving office. A violent confrontation was avoided when the current schedule A the department regularly used was found in the hands of a Q.A. person checking raw material inventory.

The same scenario was played out throughout the factory. Bill Melater, head of raw material procurement, had shown the rabbi his file of current letters of certification for all raw materials, his current schedule A and the kosher requirements listed on the purchase orders he issued. The two R&D technicians, Ben Dare and Don Dat, had shown him that all formulae tested in plant line trials had contained only approved ingredients. The company’s chief of engineering, Taylor Weal, had reviewed temperature and CIP charts to the rabbi’s satisfaction. Macon Doe, shift supervisor, described how the rabbi had audited batch records, formulae and had confirmed the complete separation of dairy and pareve production processes, lines and equipment. Erin Caushun confirmed that the rabbi had reviewed the final graphics approval she gave to the new pareve labels.

It took nine hours for the three men to methodically retrace the rabbi’s steps and meticulously analyze every question, comment and observation he had made to the plant staff. There was nothing out of order. Exhausted, they returned to where they had begun their tour. An exhilarated Mac Donald sat down on the rework barrel that was now his throne, as he savored his long-coveted victory.“Gentlemen,” he announced to DePlant and Yukleenit,“we have just reviewed this plant from top to bottom, and there is not a single item amiss in the kosher program.There is only one conclusion; that the vaunted OU rabbi has made a tragically mistaken determination regarding your product.”

“Sorry to disappoint you Mac,” came a confident voice from behind. There stood the OU rabbi, flanked by old Grandma Bailey and her 26 foot vaulting pole.“I know you’ve waited 30 years to catch us slipping up, but you’re just going to have to wait longer.”

“Darn tootin’,” echoed old Grandma Bailey, shaking her pole menacingly at Mac. “This rabbi is 100% on the mark. He knows exactly what he’s doing!”

“Oh, come off of it, rabbi,” Mac sputtered.“We both know that I, the world’s greatest living kosher Private I, after a thorough, comprehensive and extensive review, didn’t see anything amiss here. Admit it, Rabbi.The OU blew it this time – and you know it!”

The rabbi looked sympathetically at Mac before responding, for what he said next would convince Mac that pursuit of his dream would be forever futile. “You see, Mac, it’s all a question of the way a person looks at things. From my position, the issue is obvious. However, from where you’re sitting, I don’t expect you could ever notice it…..”

What was the issue that the OU rabbi found?

“…..because,” the rabbi said, pointing directly at Mac, “the problem is right there!”

“Now, hold on a minute Rabbi!” Mac yelled, jumping up and clenching his fists, “there’s no reason to get personal. Don’t go blaming me for your mistake!”

The rabbi looked stunned. “I’m sorry, Mac,” he answered in his professional and courteous manner, “You clearly misunderstood me. I wasn’t accusing you. In fact, I wasn’t even pointing at you at all. I was pointing at the barrel you’re sitting on.”

Mac looked down at the rework barrel. Then, as the truth slowly dawned on him, he began to turn red as a tomato in a tumbler.

“That barrel,” the rabbi continued, “contains rework from returned products. Companies often use returned product, or product that doesn’t meet spec, as ingredients in future batches. They literally “rework” it into new product. As the labels state, the bialys in that barrel were made with butter. That rework was used in today’s production, thereby making today’s bialys product dairy. Allowing that dairy bread product to bear the OU pareve symbol would betray the trust the public has in both Grandma Bailey’s and OU. As soon as old product ceases to come in for rework, we will kosherize again and then Grandma Bailey’s Butter Flavored Bialys may be packaged with the OU pareve symbol.”

Mac Donald, world’s foremost kosher Private Investigator, held a piece of the shiny bialy wrapper in his hands as he slinked toward the door. Leaving the facility, he could be seen staring at the film and muttering over and over, “Curses! Foiled again!”


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