One of the most serious misimpressions that persists in the minds of kosher consumers is the belief that one can eat inherently kosher foods prepared in non-kosher restaurants. Professionals are often under great pressure to go out with clients or colleagues to lunch and dinner. When kosher restaurants are not available, people rationalize that they can purchase various items, such as fish, in non-kosher establishments. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be consumed in a non-kosher restaurant that is not potentially treif. What, for example, could be wrong with fish in a non-kosher restaurant? To list just a few concerns:
a) The fish may be broiled or baked on a grill or pan previously used for lobster or bacon. If this occurs, the fish is rendered non-kosher because of the non-kosher fat and grease
b) Even if the pan or grill were clean, the ta’am (taste) of the non-kosher food would pass from the pan or grill into the fish. For the same reason, one cannot eat a hard-boiled egg prepared in such establishments. The egg may have been cooked in a pot used previously for non-kosher, and halachically, the non-kosher taste passes through the shell into the egg.
c) The fish may have been sliced with a knife previously used to cut a ham and cheese sandwich. By the same token, sliced fruit and vegetable salads may have come in contact with non-kosher residue on knives or cutting boards.
d) If the fish is seasoned or breaded there is a concern about the ingredients used in the seasoning and breading as well. In addition to non-kosher components, the seasonings could contain a dairy ingredient, which combined with the residual meat on the grill and pan would create a status of bossor v’cholov (meat and milk).
e) Fish requires simonim (signs of kashruth) to be considered kosher. The halachah does not permit the purchase of filleted fish even if the owner of the fish store claims that it is a kosher species. Without seeing the fins and scales, one is not permitted to assume the fish is kosher. If a person asks for a scaleless piece of flounder in a non-kosher restaurant, the halachah says that you cannot assume that the fish you ordered is the fish you got. As a matter of fact, filleted European turbot (a non-kosher fish) is almost identical to filleted flounder.
What if you give instructions on how to prepare your fish?
Waiter, listen carefully, please. I want a piece of broiled halibut. Leave the skin on, and don’t scrape off the scales. Don’t slice the fish with your knives, and bake it in a new unused aluminum foil pan. Make sure there are no other foods in the oven which may splatter on my fish while it is baking. Don’t put anything on the fish at all. Serve the fish on a disposable paper plate with plastic silverware. Don’t take the fish off the baking pan with a spatula which is not kosher. Just toss it off by turning the pan upside down. Did you get all that waiter?
Still no good. The halacha establishes that a non-Jew or a Jew who does not observe the laws of kashruth is not ne’eman (trusted) to testify on matters of kashruth (Yoreh Daya, 119).
There is one final problem with the fish. It is prohibited to eat the fish because of bishul akum. (Bishul akum is food cooked by a non-Jew. See my article on this topic in the Winter ‘94-’95 issue of Jewish Action, entitled “Playing with Fire.” A hard boiled egg cooked in a non-kosher restaurant would also fall into the category of bishul akum.) The only way to overcome all these problems is to go into the kitchen yourself, turn on the fire and supervise the entire production of the fish. Unfortunately, this solution is certainly not practical. What about eating tuna fish? If you don’t see the can, it may not be prepared under supervision. Some tuna fish companies produce non-kosher pet food on the same equipment, and for that reason and others, tuna requires a reliable hashgachah. It is possible to order a closed pop-top can of supervised tuna which you open yourself at the table. This can be consumed with an uncut salad of fruits and vegetables.
by Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, OU Kosher
See others in OU Kosher’s “What Could be Wrong with…” series: