The OU recently inspected Angel Yeast, a dry-yeast plant in the city of Chifeng, in Inner Mongolia, thanks to a midnight (U.S. East Coast time) and 1.p.m. (in China) Zoom conference by a rabbinic coordinator working from an office in the United States and Mandarin-fluent Field Rabbi Yonatan Zhook, an OU Rabbinic Field Representative (RFR) in China.
Rabbi Zhook and the more than 850 other RFRs spanning 105 countries are of increasing importance during these travel-challenged times. Virtual inspections are considered when a plant is off-limits due to COVID restrictions or another emergency situation, as well as to support or instruct a field rabbi. In June of 2020, during the Covid pandemic, with entry to the country barred for foreigners, OU Field Rabbi Martin Grunberg contacted Rabbi Zhook, a resident of Shanghai, to take on some of Rabbi Grunberg’s visits. Now, even with entry to China relaxed, Rabbi Zhook continues to assist the OU there.
Angel Yeast has 10 production bases in China, Egypt and Russia, and is one of the top 15 makers of active dry yeast worldwide. Its 50-acre Chifeng campus, the company’s newest, has 100,000 square meters of production space and more than 800 employees. The hybrid visit was an initial inspection to check the feasibility of kosher certification for the facility.
Assisted by Angel production manager Liang Wei and quality director Zhang Jiupeng, Rabbi Zhook made his way through the plant with the American rabbi perched on his smartphone, observing and taking copious notes. The plant’s yeast production starts with sugar—and lots of it. Angel Yeast runs an onsite sugar refinery, the source of molasses, the fermentation basis of the yeast. Angel ferments this molasses using specially developed bacterial strains, in a process that takes several days.
Rabbi Zhook is no stranger to food production and automation, with over 30 years experience in those and in related fields. He created a 65,000-acre farm in the Russian heartland and built three rice mills, a flour mill and an oil mill there. Kosher laws he learned from Chabad rabbis in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Rabbi Zhook put his combined kosher and food production experience to good use during the first China Import Expo in 2018. “I created the fastest cooking speed in Chinese cooking,” he says. “Two people can cook 10,000 portions of five varieties in one hour. My factory now supplies airline meals and coffee shop chains.”
OU expects to do more “hybrid” inspections — on-the-ground plus virtual — in the future.