Lo Basi Ella L’orer – Keurig coffee makers

February 21, 2012

The Keurig coffee machine, an appliance unbeknownst to most of us two or three years ago, has become a fixture in many homes and offices. This has given rise to a great number of questions surrounding this machine, especially regarding the office setting. At the OU we get asked these questions on a daily basis and I would like to share some of these questions and answers.

Are all K-cups kosher / pareve?
Currently Green Mountain Coffee, the makers of the K-cups (disposable pods filled with coffee grinds that are inserted into the Keurig) has two brands of K-cups that are not certified kosher; Café Escapes and Swiss-Miss. Additionally, there are a number of K-cups that are certified kosher dairy. It should also be noted that it is also possible to purchase reusable pods that fit into Keurig machines that can be filled with any brand of coffee/cocoa/tea. Therefore, while it is true that most K-cups are kosher and pareve, one should not immediately assume that any Keurig machine may be used.

Can the Keurig machine be kashered?
The Keurig machine is mostly made of plastic. While there are differing opinions as to whether plastic can be kashered for Pesach (B’makom tzorech the OU is lenient), the prevailing opinion is that for year round use one may kasher plastic. Therefore, if one purchased a used Keurig machine, they may kasher it by cleaning out the cup holder making sure it has not been used in 24 hours and then kashering by running hot water through the system.
In an office environment where it is not possible to idle the Keurig for 24 hours (i.e. the machine is used every day by co-workers with potentially non-kosher or dairy K-cups), one may be lenient to kasher the Keurig machine without waiting 24 hours. One should wipe out the cup holder all around (inside and underneath) with damp paper towels and then run hot water through the machine so that it touches all surfaces. I found that by ripping out the bottom of a Styrofoam cup and placing it over the bottom of the cup holder will cause the holder to fill with hot water. Kashering with irui is acceptable since the Keurig machine works through irui. The few ounces of hot coffee that run through these pipes do not qualify as an extended irui. In industrial settings we view the flow of product through the pipes as a continuation of the kli rishon, because the irui of hundreds of gallons of water for an extended period of time saturate the walls of the pipes such that they are no difanos mikareros. This obviously does not take place in a Keurig machine. Therefore, any non-kosher bliyos would not penetrate further than a k’dei klipa of the piping. By running a cup of hot water through the pipes there will definitely be more than shishim k’neged this k’dei klipa1. Although Rema (O.C. 452:2 as explained by Pri Migadim) writes that the minhag is not to kasher ben yomo kailim even if one will have shishim, in a shas ha’dchak, one may be maikel2.

Can a Keurig machine be kashered for Pesach?
Although regular unflavored coffee grounds are always kosher for Pesach, many of the flavored K-cups are not. Therefore one may not use their year round or office Keurig on Pesach. What about kashering the machine? Aside from the issue of whether one may kasher plastic for Pesach, which b’makom tzorech the OU allows, there is also a question as to whether one may kasher narrow tubing. Magen Avrohom (O.C. 452:11) says that narrow tubes that cannot be scrubbed clean should not be kashered for Pesach. Although the OU often kashers pipes and other inaccessible areas for Pesach productions, this is because the production takes place before Pesach when chametz is still batel b’shishim. The chumra of the Magen Avrohom relates to Pesach itself, when the presence of even a mashehu of chametz make everything assur. However, others are more maikel if hot detergent is poured through those tubes3, since the detergent is known to be an effective cleanser. Additionally, the detergent serves as a davar ha’pogem.
For those wishing to invest in a new Keurig machine, there are indeed several dozen K-cups that are acceptable for Pesach, even though they are not labeled OU-P. A complete list is available on the OU website.

What is the status of a Keurig machine if someone placed a non-Kosher mug underneath?
The Mishnah (Machshirin 5:10) says that pouring a hot ta’hor liquid into a cold ta’mei liquid does not form a chibur l’tumah. The Mordechai relates this halachah to issur v’heter as well. In other words “nitzuk aino chibur”. Therefore, the non-kosher mug will not affect the kashrus of the Keurig machine. Similarly, if one placed a mug with milk underneath a pareve Keurig machine, there is no need to kasher. Even though zeiya from the mug will rise up to the Keurig, the spout which is hot will deflect the zeiya from the kli sheini.

Do Keurig machines require tevilla?
Unlike most other hot water urns that can withstand being dunked in water, so long as they are properly dried, the Keurig machine has a digital component that will not survive getting wet. Additionally, even if one were to attempt to toivel a Keurig machine, the inner chamber will not fill with water. Water will only enter the inside chamber if it is pumped through. So tevila is not really an option.
Rav Belsky holds that we may view the Keurig machine as a plastic kli, which is exempt from tevilla. This is because the entire visible machine is indeed plastic. The metal receptacle and element which are in the recesses of the machine are not accessible. Although there are two pins that pierce and inject hot water into the K-cup, it is not clear that these pins require tevilla. It is possible that they are like a can opener. If one wishes to remove the pins and toivel them, with some cajoling they can be removed (at least in some models).
If one sells a portion of the Keurig machine to a non-Jew, this would alleviate any question of tevilla, because even a kli that is owned bi’shutfos (partnership) with a non-Jew is exempt from tevilla4. The proper way to accomplish such a sale, would be to accept some money as payment (kinyan kesef) and have the non-Jew pick up the Keurig to show that he is taking partial ownership (kinyan hagba’a). Likewise, if an office has a coffee service contract that supplies and owns the Keurig machine then there is no chiyuv tevilla, so long as the service company is at least partially owned by non-Jews.

Notes:

1 Shach Y.D. 137:11 and Taz Y.D. 137:4

2 Sefer Hagalos Keilim Perek 6 Halacha 12

3 See Teshuvas Va’yaan Yosef O.C. 222

4 Rema Y.D. 120:11