A multi-million dollar corporation sends an executive to meet with contacts in Iceland to review a potential production facility. What does the executive pack for such a trip? Tourist guides to find the hot springs, a digital camera to capture majestic photos of glaciers and geysers and his Visa card (cause in Iceland, they don’t take American Express, and no we did not receive a product placement fee from Visa!!!).
What does an OU Rabbinic Field Representative pack for that trip? Maybe those things as well, but he also will need to pack all of the food he will need for the trip. He will also need to keep in mind that checked baggage gets lost and he can be stuck for the duration of his trip with nothing but what he has in his carry on (as happened to me during a recent trip to Colombia!)
The upside of hiring kosher observant Rabbinic Field Representatives is that 100% of our employees take their work seriously, because their own families may well be eating the products they certify. The downside is that restricted by kosher rules means we usually have to bring all of our own food with us.
Outside of areas concentrated by Orthodox Jewish communities, there are few if any kosher restaurants. In the US and Canada, it is easy to go to the local supermarket and find OU certified products of both national and private label brands. Outside of the US and Canada, the selection of kosher certified foods on the supermarket shelves is much more limited. As such, when a foreign plant is being visited by the OU Rabbinic Field Representative, you can bet that the Rabbi shlepped his lunch from home!
During a visit to some salmon canneries in Alaska, my contact person innocently offered me to join the plant people and eat in the mess hall. I reminded him that in order to kosherize the mess hall to eat there myself, the compay would need to put it down for 24 hours, clean it to bare metal and then kosherize everything with boiling water and flame thrower, just as we would when we kosherize a plant. He then suggested I bring a sandwich from NY!
So, what does a Rabbinic Field Representative usually do for food? Canned tuna, salmon, anchovies and sardines are popular because they do not require refrigeration. If one is staying in a hotel with a refrigerator, the Rabbi might upgrade to cheese or cold cuts sandwiches. In Iceland, I was lucky enough to have a coffee maker in the room, which because they are dedicated to kosher use (plain coffee or tea) did not require kosherization prior to use, and that provided hot water for everything. Oatmeal for breafast (in my own dispopsable bowl), instant mashed potatoes and cup-of-soup with my sandwich for dinner. Some Rabbis opt for canned vegetables heated by running hot water from the sink over the can, or get really creative with hair dryers and irons (the only concern is whether the previous OU representative used the iron with fish, dairy or meat!!!) Sandwich makers, waffle irons, and immersion heaters are the tools of our trade!
One thing is for certain: it may not be easy to visit foreign facilities, but one thing is for certain. The OU will send its best and brightest: its professionals who take the job seriously, and are proud to endure any necessary culinary hardships in order to guarantee OU customers the utmost in service and quality.