OU Kosher Dairy Standards – What’s It all About?

For some companies that are new (as well as not so new) to OU Kosher, kosher dairy standards can elicit many good questions. At times, industry language doesn’t quite match kosher language, and seemingly innocuous commodity ingredients, whose sourcing is often not a major concern for dairy processors, suddenly becomes an issue for OU Kosher certification. Let’s try to achieve some clarity on this all.

Below are some questions and answers on the most common kosher dairy standards issues.

Why does non-fat dry milk (NFDM) need to be kosher-approved?

NFDM is manufactured in spray dryers that may be shared with non-kosher production. The use of this equipment for NFDM renders the product non-kosher (or, “NKNFDM” – non-kosher non-fat dry milk, to be more precise). Hence, the only way to assure that NFDM has been exclusively processed on kosher equipment is for it to bear a recognized kosher symbol.

Why isn’t cream acceptable from any source?

Sweet cream, being the fatty component of milk, is always kosher, so long as it is not later processed on non-kosher equipment or treated with non-kosher additives. However, many plants manufacture whey cream, which is the fatty component of whey, and which is often not kosher. Since non-kosher whey cream is sometimes handled by sweet cream facilities and can be used in many dairy products, and it can pose serious kosher concerns, cream needs to be verifiably kosher and is not acceptable from any source. (A note for whey cream manufacturers: Whey cream can be kosher and often merits kosher certification. Please be in touch with us for more information.) BEHIND THE UNION SYMBOL 12

Why isn’t most cheese kosher? I understand that a small percentage of cheeses contain animal-derived rennet, which is not kosher, but what about the rest of the cheeses?

There is a stringency in kosher law that prohibits the use of any cheese that is not made with special, onsite rabbinic supervision, lest that cheese contain non-kosher rennet. This rule applies to all cheeses, and that’s why only special-production kosher cheeses, with rabbinic supervision throughout processing, are deemed kosher.

Why isn’t AA grade butter acceptable without kosher certification?

Although AA grade butter should be made purely from sweet cream, which is kosher, research has shown that so long as there are no discernable organoleptic ramifications, small amounts of whey cream may be tolerated in AA butter production. Since whey cream is a highly kosher-sensitive ingredient, AA butter (and all the more so butter of lower grade) needs kosher certification.

Milk is one dairy ingredient that OU Kosher accepts for industrial use from any source. Why doesn’t the OU seem to apply this rule across the globe and certify dairy products from all countries?

Milk is only kosher when derived from kosher species, such as cows, goats and sheep. Although labeling laws in most developed countries assure that dairy products contain only milk from kosher species, unless specifically marked otherwise, there are some countries that do not have such regulations, or whose labeling and dairy farming regulations are lax. Kosher law does not allow the use of milk in such cases, absent onsite rabbinic supervision at the farm and onwards.

I have been told that plain Greek yogurt is always kosher. Is this correct?

We’re afraid not. All yogurt, even unflavored and even without stabilizers, contains cultures; cultures are extremely kosher-sensitive, and that’s why all yogurt needs proper kosher certification.

Is there any kosher difference between skim milk and condensed skim milk?

Skim milk enjoys the same always-kosher (called “group 1”) status as does regular milk, but condensed skim is only acceptable when it is derived from approved sources. This is because the evaporators used in the production of condensed skim may at times be used for non-kosher materials.

Are cream cheese and cottage cheese always kosher?

Definitely not. Cream cheese uses cultures, which always need reliable kosher certification; stabilizers, which can potentially contain meat-based gelatin, are used as well. Not to mention that in some cases, rennet can be used, and rennet is super sensitive from a kosher perspective.

Why do kosher cheeses and cheese powders usually bear an additional OU certification feature, such as a signature sticker of the supervising rabbi, aside from the regular OUD symbol?

Items that are made on a special-production basis, such as cheese, typically require an added kosher notification, such as a special-production sticker or a rabbi’s signature on the label, confirming that the item was made as a special production. Furthermore, most cheese companies manufacture kosher and non-kosher products; the additional kosher marking serves as a safety feature that distinguishes the kosher cheese product from the companies’ “regular” cheese product.

As with nearly every area of life, there is important information available that clarifies the confusing and that demystifies the perplexing. We hope that the above Q & A session has shed some light on that which justifiably be a quite misunderstood area of kosher certification. BTUS invites readers to submit any further questions that are not featured here.

Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer is a rabbinic coordinator at OU Kosher, where he serves as account executive for the kosher programs of 115 OU-certified client companies. Rabbi Gordimer specializes in the dairy industry, and is a frequent contributor to OU publications as well as to Israel National News and various other online and print media.