The process of certifying an item as OU kosher is based entirely on halacha – Jewish law. OU RC’s (Rabbinic Coordinators) and RFR’s (Rabbinic Field Representatives) are of course well versed in halacha and apply Jewish law in all aspects of the certification process. During the course of their work, however, when unique situations arise with no clear cut answer or precedent to halachic questions, rabbis in the field and their coordinators in New York have a mighty resource to call on – OU poskim, or experts at the highest levels in Jewish law. The following is a case study on how OU poskim make their decisions, and on the dynamic process which is involved in their deliberations. For this case study, we must travel all the way to Australia, home of a dairy company named Murray Goulburn.
A small sign hanging above the produce in a local supermarket reads, “Fruits and vegetables have been coated with food-grade vegetable, petroleum, beeswax, and/or lac-resin based wax or resin to maintain freshness… No fruits or vegetables have been coated with animal-based wax”. The sign is the result of efforts by citizens groups demanding disclosure of ingredients in coatings used on fresh produce. The produce industry, citing the impracticality of constantly changing signs and claiming that disclosure would compromise the confidentiality of coatings ingredients, resisted these demands. The FDA regulation that emerged in 1994 is the result of a compromise between the two groups. Although the sign does disclose some information, it only tells part of a much larger story.
THE ENZYME INDUSTRY and its component, the food grade enzyme industry, are areas that have grown rapidly over the last forty to fifty years. Enzymes are currently used to create all sorts of different properties in foods, throughout food manufacturing. Examples include the starch industry, production of cheese and other dairy products, bakery products, the egg industry, juice and wine production – and we could go on and on. Enzymes have been found to do all sorts of interesting things such as liquefy solids, sweeten starch syrups, curdle milk for cheese production, act as a clarifier in juice production, de-sugar egg whites to prevent browning during drying – and again the list goes on and on. It can truly be said that the use of food grade enzymes is now “mainstream,” as their usage is found in all sorts of production situations, large, medium and small.
While we shop, before purchasing a particular item we routinely ask ourselves, “Is it kosher?” The prudent kosher consumer will always check the label to confirm whether a kosher symbol appears on the label. However, due to the vast number of kosher agencies that operate throughout the world, sometimes checking labels for kosher symbols can resemble alphabet soup. Today, the number of kosher symbols internationally exceeds 700, and we often find ourselves in a sea of confusion. If a kosher symbol appears on a product label, we might be tempted to tell ourselves, “It must be fine, isn’t it? I am sure it’s all the same”.
It is well known that a few generations ago the Poskim discussed whether gelatin made from animal bones is kosher, and the general consensus in the United States was that it is not kosher. This article will focus on the more-recent developments regarding this ingredient.
Not a week goes by without us at the OU learning of new Kashrut issues that arise from new developments in the food industry. Food companies are always discovering new ways to make their products better while at the same time lower their production costs. These innovations lead to new methods of production and ingredients,…
An age-old adage declares, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The conventional approach to understanding the profundity of this truism is that, contrary to popular belief, life in our modern-day society resembles the life of our ancestors far more than it differs from it. Lessons gleaned from history give direction on how to proceed in the future. The Ramban called this an “inyan gadol” – a matter of paramount importance – when he commented (Bereishis 12:6): Kol ma she’ira la’avos, siman labanim, “Everything that transpired in the lives of the Patriarchs is a portent for their descendants.” The Torah is the embodiment of this reality. Its laws are as contemporary as they are timeless, and its historical accounts relating the events of thousands of years ago are ever relevant to the here and now. Times may be different, but life’s challenges and appropriate responses to those challenges, as set forth by the Torah, remain the same.
For many kosher agencies, handling regular productions is…regular. Once an organization has a system in place for handling plant inspections, ingredient substitutions, label changes, new equipment and production adjustments, the key is simply to maintain the status quo. That is, until a plant wishes to do a “special production”.
Why must you always check for kosher certification, even on products you know well?
In the times of Chazal, honey was the substance that symbolized sweetness. There may have been several reasons for this, but one of them is certainly that honey was the sweetener that was available in those days. In the last few centuries honey was dethroned by sugar as the most popular sweetener in most of the world, and in the last few years even sugar has been challenged as the king of sweeteners. In food science laboratories around the world, chemists are bent on developing sweeteners that have low or no calories, have absolutely no deleterious effect on one’s health, are odorless and, like sugar, taste geshmak . Some of these are natural and some are artificial. A few of them involve real kashrus concerns.