Question: I hear so much about the booming Passover kosher market. I understand that 40% of all kosher products are sold in the six to seven weeks prior to Passover. I also understand that the kosher laws relating to Passover are much stricter and require on-site supervision. Our company produces baked goods, while some of my colleagues produce soda beverages and snacks. Can you help me understand what kosher for Passover is all about?
Answer: The holiday of Passover commemorates the Jewish people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. While most Jewish holidays have a food component, a majority of the laws of Passover center around the food one is permitted and prohibited to consume during the holiday. Hence, families make sure to purchase enough of the holiday’s permitted products needed to last throughout the eight-day period.
Passover requires a special diet. The production of foods from most grains is prohibited or strictly limited. During this eight-day festival, which falls in late March or April, Jews are required to refrain from most bread, crackers, cookies, cereals, pizza and pastas. The Bible dictates that Jews abstain from the consumption of any “chometz” (leavened grain products, made of either wheat, barley, spelt, oat or rye that have been mixed with water and allowed unmanipulated contact for 18 minutes or longer. Therefore, foods for Passover are usually made without these ingredients (or need to be made with onsite supervision and with special procedures to maintain the 18-minute contact rule, as is the case with matzah).
In addition to the five grains listed above, much of the community refrains from products made from legume or legume-like products. This would eliminate all beans, rice and corn items, including corn syrup used in many products as a sweetener. Although families cannot stock their cupboards with the usual products they use during the rest of the year, Passover creates opportunities for manufacturers to supply food products that meet these strict requirements.
During the holiday, kosher homemakers replace all of their year-round products with brand new (unopened) Passover-compliant versions (even those that are technically Passover compliant, but may have had inadvertent contact with “chometz” ingredients in the process of regular use). For this reason alone, a lot of shopping is done for what would otherwise be only two percent of the calendar year. Many consumers who wouldn’t consider themselves traditionally kosher the rest of the year, remember Passover in their homes growing up and feel a strong connection to the holiday. Consequently, they prefer to buy kosher-for-Passover products.
In addition to the grain limitations mentioned above, OU Kosher requires onsite rabbinic supervision to make certain that 100% of the ingredients and processes involved in food production are Passover compliant. Substituting special sources of ingredients (from enzymes, to Passover-approved citric acid and more) significantly increases the chance for a mistake; busy plant personnel might otherwise not notice someone taking from the non-Passover stockpile for production. Prior to a special production, often a full kosherization of the equipment (which often includes a boiling water purge of all cooking equipment or the like) may be required.
If your customers are asking about Passover product production, contact your rabbinic coordinator to get a better idea of what would be required for your plant to do an OU-P kosher for Passover production.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg has been manning the fish desk at the OU for 15 years, managing roughly 400 OU certified manufacturing plants and traveling to five continents to inspect and establish kosher protocols at processing plants of all types. Rabbi Goldberg’s tackle box can be found in his family home in Brooklyn, NY.