The Local Bakery

It is early morning, and the father is leaving for Shacharis. The wife calls out “please bring home bread, rolls, a chocolate Danish and a cheese Danish”. The father faithfully honors the request and buys the baked goods from the local grocer near the shul. The wife has what she asked for, the father fulfilled his duties and all members of the family have kosher fresh baked goods to eat. This common scenario does not raise any kashrus concerns for the average kosher consumer. We should, however, take a closer look.

Has any participant thought about the Kashrus of the baked goods? Has anyone asked if there is a Hechsher? Some assume that that the products must be kosher because the seller is a frum Yid. This rationale, however, is not always justified.

For example, Mrs. R. reported that when she asked a frum storekeeper about the kashrus of the baked goods, she was surprised to see how the storekeeper was startled by the question and could not answer her adequately. Similarly, Mrs. Z., shortly after moving into a new neighborhood, entered an accepted kosher takeout establishment that did not have a hechsher posted. She asked the owner, “under whose hashgacha are you?” The reply: “You are the first person to ask me this question!” Therefore, one simply cannot assume that the kashrus of a product can be ascertained by looking who the seller is.

Your Neighborhood Bakery

Let us take a close look at the trip these baked goods took from the time the flour was milled until it was brought into the Jewish home. Is it as simple process as one is wont to assume? While many of us bake at home, the neighborhood bakery is a very different type of operation. As we will see, the neighborhood bakery is significantly more complex and has its unique kashrus issues.

The baking industry is mainly divided into two segments: The large automated commercial bakeries and the neighborhood bakery. We will focus on the neighborhood bakery. This neighborhood bakery may in fact be a large wholesale distributor to other bakeries and to groceries. However for our purposes it still remains the neighborhood bakery.

The neighborhood bakery typically produces a multitude of products in order to satisfy the many different customer demands. Frequently, the size of the operation is small. It is a challenging task to produce so many products in a small area while maintaining an adequate kashrus controls. The following examples illustrate some of the common kashrus issues:

  • Numerous ingredients must be received and stored. Someone must check the ingredients upon delivery to ensure that they are all kosher. Although only kosher ingredients are ordered, mistakes happen. Distributors of ingredients deal with and deliver many ingredients to several customers. The distributor may not have the requested ingredient in stock and, in order to satisfy his customer, the distributor may substitute the ingredient with a similar ingredient from a different manufacturer. Also, the delivery person sometimes makes a mistake and delivers the wrong ingredient.
  • Dairy ingredients must be stored separately from pareve ingredients. Special care must be taken with regard to those ingredients that, although similar to each other, could come in either pareve or dairy form, such as flavorings and pastry dough.
  • Even if an ingredient is pareve, it may be desirable to segregate it for exclusive dairy or pareve use. For example, ingredients such as sugar, salt, flour and bottles of flavorings must be stored in both the pareve and dairy areas in order to avoid cross-contamination. Just imagine a worker using a measuring cup or scoop, with residue of a dairy mix still on it, for pareve sugar or salt?
  • Most of the moveable equipment, mixing bowls, hooks, blades, pans, racks etc. must be duplicated; one set for pareve production and one set for dairy production. All equipment must be clearly marked as dairy or pareve. That equipment must also be stored in separate areas.
  • Preparation tables are used to roll out, cut and fill dough. Two such tables are needed, one for pareve and one for dairy. If there is only room for one table, it must be completely covered during dairy preparation.
  • Separate sinks are needed for dairy and for pareve, with enough separation between them to avoid cross-contamination.
  • L’chatchilah there should be two ovens, one for pareve and one for dairy. With respect to large commercial ovens, there is a concern that dairy residue from spillage may remain in the oven and contaminate pareve products. Therefore, the halacha requires an oven koshering (this requirement does not apply to residential oven. See Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 97).
  • Some bakeries re-use the pan liners placed on the baking pans. Controls must be in place to ensure that pan liners used for dairy danishes are not used for pareve danishes.
  • Employees who handle dairy products must follow procedures in order to make sure that, after handling dairy products, their hands do not contaminate other products. Gloves should be worn during dairy production or the hands should be washed before pareve production.
  • The bakery should separate pareve and dairy products in the retail area. When serving customers, workers should use caution when handling both pareve and dairy products.

Halachos Unique to Baked Goods:

Baked goods are a staple of our diets. This has given them a special status in halacha, for example:

  • The beracha on bread at the beginning of a meal will generally be sufficient for all other items consumed in the course of that meal, and a beracha is almost never necessary on any foods eaten during the main part of the meal.
  • When baked goods whose bracha is mezonot are combined with other foods, the baked goods are usually considered the main food and only a borei minei mezonos is recited.
  • There are unique berachos before and after we eat baked goods.

The halachot of challah, pas Yisroel and Yoshon each deserve a separate, thorough discussion. However, we will set forth some major issues that pertain to the neighborhood bakery.

The Torah requires the separation of challah from certain dough based products belonging to a Jew. The accepted practice is to separate a small amount of dough (“challah” ) from a batch containing approximately 3 pounds of flour without making a beracha and from a dough containing app. 5 pounds of flour with a beracha. The separated challah is then burned.

Bizman hazeh, the obligation to set aside the challah is a chiyuv miD’rabbanan (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 322:2]. This chiyuv applies to ALL baked goods not only bread and rolls.

L’Halacha, Poskim hold that there is a chiyuv hafrashat challah even on cake batter, such as sponge cake. This batter is called, bliloso rakoh – a loose batter, as opposed to a bread or pastry dough which is blisoso avoh – a thick dough (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 329:2).

In our homes we do not separate challah from sponge cake batter. The reason is that home baked cake recipes do not contain the amount of flour required for a chiyuv hafrashat challah. However, the amount of batter produced at a bakery is typically large enough to require a hafrashat challah.

Bizman Hazeh only a very small amount must be taken from the dough to be mekayem the chiyuv hafrashah.

The separation of challah must be done by a Jew.

Pas Yisroel

Chazal were concerned that sharing meals with goyim may lead to intermarriage. Therefore, Chazal created certain restrictions pertaining to the consumption of foods cooked or baked by non-Jewish persons. One of these restrictions is that pas akum, bread baked by a non-Jew, may not be eaten. However, it is widely accepted that the restriction of pas akum does not apply to pas palter, bread baked by a commercial bakery belonging to a non-Jew (See Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 112:2).

Some are stringent not to eat pas palter all year round and it is a widely accepted practice to be machmir during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah (Orach Chaim 603:1).

For a baked product to be considered pas Yisroel a Jew must participate in the baking of the bread. For example, if a Jew turns on the oven, the bread baked in that oven would be considered pas Yisroel. In older gas-fired ovens there is usually a pilot light that, according to some opinions, if lit by a Jew, makes the bread baked in that oven pas Yisroel, even if a non-Jew subsequently turns on the oven. Ovens with electronic ignitions do not have pilot lights and, therefore, a Jew must turn them on each time that the oven is used to bake bread. Some electronic ignition ovens, such as convection ovens, shut off each time the oven door is opened and turn back on when the oven door is closed. This would necessitate a Jew closing the oven door for each baking. There are Poskim who hold that if the oven retains its heat sufficiently from the previous baking, the Jew turning on the oven for the first baking renders all subsequent baking pas Yisroel. [It is important to note that some of these ovens cool down quite quickly and the oven will not retain its heat long enough for the first closing to suffice for a second baking.]

Is bread baked by a non Jew in a Jewish owned bakery considered pas palter and permissible for those who do not eat only pas Yisroel? The opinion of the Tur, quoted by the Shach (YD 112:7), apparently forbids such bread even for those who only eat pas palter. However R’ Moshe Feinstein ruled that this is true only when the Jew could easily employ Jewish workers. If this is not practiced, the bread can be considered pas palter (Igros Moshe YD I: 45). Having a Jew turn on the fire would satisfy all opinions.

Yoshon

There are differing customs with respect to the observance of the prohibition of “chadash” in Chutz Laaretz. Chadash is grain that had not taken root before Pesach. The widely accepted custom is to permit chadash in Chutz Laaretz (See Mishneh Berurah 489:45). Nowadays, there are some people who are stringent to consume only grain products that are yoshon, i.e. “old” grain that was already rooted in the ground prior to the previous Pesach (see Mishneh Berurah ibid). This is very relevant to the baking industry since wheat is a major bakery ingredient.

Consumers Who Eat Yoshon Only Should Be Mindful of the Following Issues:

  • A reliable hechsher does not guarantee that a product is yoshon unless it specifically states so.
  • The yoshon flour must be stored in a way to ensure that flour will not become infested with insects. yoshon flour is stored from the time of harvest in June/July to the following Pesach and is therefore susceptible to such infestation.
  • The flour should be checked for infestation or sifted.

Packaging and Deliveries

We are now faced with the next phenomena of a bakery: packaging and deliveries. Bakeries often receive baked goods from other locations, and often deliver their own goods. How are the baked goods identified, how are they segregated from other products?

Baked goods are often not sealed in packages. There are good reasons for this: fresh, warm baked goods do not belong in plastic and it is much cheaper to send out products in bulk and uncovered. The cartons used to transport the goods may have been previously used for dairy products.

Many times the deliveryman is a non-Jew. He may also pick up from a number of bakeries and deliver for them. He may even own the route. He may be what is known as a “jobber”, someone who owns a route to supply stores with baked goods from various bakeries. You may end up with open packages, delivered by a non-Jew, from various bakeries, some possibly without a hechsher.

The aforementioned issues illustrate that there must be a strong measure of vigilance used in giving an adequate hechsher on a neighborhood bakery. Consumers should wonder what happens in the middle of the night, when so much baking is done:

  • Who is in charge?
  • Is the mashgiach there at 3 AM?
  • Are the dairy and pareve properly segregated?
  • Who is the baker? Does he know the kashrus procedures? Does he follow them?
  • Who ensures that all Kashrus/Pareve/Dairy procedures are followed?
  • Who separates challah?
  • Who turns on the oven?
  • Who is delivering and what is being delivered?
  • Does the Rav Hamachshir have control over unsealed, delivered goods?

In short, how thorough is the hashgacha?

When it comes to kashrus, consumers often rely on the Rav HaMachshir, and this article does not advocate that consumers are in a better position to determine the kashrus of foods than he is. The Rav HaMachshir is undoubtedly more knowledgeable about the kashrus of a product than the average consumer. That, however, should not prevent consumers from asking questions, as Chazal say, “Ein habayshan lamed, he who is bashful will not learn.” This is especially true when there is a reasonable basis to ask for more details.