Eight Points To Remember When Looking For The Kosher Symbol

In order to assist you, our customer, benefit from the OU kosher certification, the OU would like to present eight points to remember when purchasing the products we certify.

1. You must always check to verify that the OU kosher symbol is on the package. Before purchasing any OU certified product, you must check the label to confirm the product in fact has an OU on it. This is your guarentee that the product is under OU certification. There are various reasons why a product which previously had the OU endorsement may no longer be OU certified. For example, a certified company may choose to discontinue its OU certification. The OU occasionally requires that a product have its OU symbol obliterated for non-compliance with the OU kosher program. Another common situation where the OU would require its symbol to be removed from a product is when a company inserts a non-kosher sample of a spice blend inside of a product bearing the OU. The fact that a product was certified in the past does not guarentee that its current absence was a mere printer’s mistake in the packaging design. Remember the simple rule: always check for the Union symbol.

2. Not every product under a brand name is OU certified. It is very common for the OU to certify only some products bearing a particular brand name. The consumer must be vigilant and remember that not all “Uncle Joe’s French fries are kosher. If “Uncle Joe’s Spicy Curly Fries” are certified, that does not mean “Uncle Joe’s Cajun Curly Fries” are, as well. The one exception to this principle is that the OU will not certify a product that has an exact duplicate that is non-kosher, i.e., OU certified Uncle Joe’s Spicy Curly Fries and non-OU certified Uncle Joe’s Spicy Curly Fries. Nevertheless, if the non-certified products are not exact duplicates, the OU would not object to them being manufactured without supervision.

3. Consumers must check for the OU kosher symbol on all products, even those purchased in “kosher” supermarkets. Supermarkets that cater to the kosher consumer do their best to stock their shelves with what they believe to be kosher. Nevertheless, the fact that a store is “kosher”, that the owner is Shomer Shabbos, or that the clientele are mainly Orthodox Jews does not guarantee that every product they sell has reliable certification.

4. Companies are required to print the OU directly on the packaging. If you see a product with an OU applied as a sticker (i.e., nothing but the OU symbol on a sticker), handwritten on the label, or repackaged (i.e. a supermarket whose open bin of “Sweet Steve’s Sourballs” has a hand-written sign that says the product is OU certified, even though no OU is printed on the wrapper), please do not assume the product is certified, and kindly contact our office.

5. It is a good idea to check the ingredient panel for dairy ingredients, even if the product does not have the OU-D designation. Mistakes do happen, and products containing dairy can be accidentally marked with a plain OU. Some examples of dairy ingredients are: milk powder, butter (though some “natural butter flavors” are actually parve), casein, whey and cream. If you do notice an ingredient that seems like it might be dairy on a product labeled with a plain “OU”, please contact our office for clarification.

6. If there are no dairy ingredients in the product label, and a product is marked OU-D, do not assume the reason for the dairy designation is equipment related (which other organizations might mark “DE” ) . The OU does not certify products with a “dairy equipment” (or “DE” ) designation. Consumers are sometimes under the impression that if there is no dairy ingredient on the label, the product is intrinsically parve and merely produced on dairy equipment. One must bear in mind that there are often issues of residual product from the previous run that may remain on the equipment, and often this residual amount could be significant enough to render a product “truly” dairy. The OU may require a company to place the OU-D symbol on an otherwise parve product (even if it is run on cold equipment) because the company does not properly clean its manufacturing equipment before running parve product.

In addition, dairy components of other ingredients may not necessarily be listed on the ingredient panel. Labeling laws allow listing general categories of ingredients without itemizing the sub-units that are contained within them. For example: “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” can include dairy components, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein may contain casein, which is a dairy derivative.

7. The Orthodox Union takes responsibilty for all aspects of the kashrus of a product. If a product requires the taking of “challa”, “bishul yisroel”, “bdikas toyloyim”, “mchiras chometz”, sensitivity to “shvi’is and shmitta” or any other special requirement to maintain its kosher status, the OU takes responsibility to maintain that as well. Our Rabbinic Coordinators, responsible for maintaining the kosher program at a certified company, discuss these various considerations with our Halachic Consultants to make sure a product is kosher in every way.

8. Consumers are asked to call the OU kashrus hotline (212-613-8241) or e-mail the Orthodox Union with any questions they have about OU certified products. Does a product bear an oddly shaped OU? Do you see something which appears to be a parallel product, one OU certified and one not? Does the “parve pepperoni” on that new pizza taste a little too authentic? By all means, share your concern with us. Your phone call might help one of our certified companies to correct an honest mistake (like leaving the “D” off of a yogurt product), or alert our Trademark Compliance Department to an illegitimate use of the OU symbol.