OU Kosher Meets the Challenge of Certifying the Beverage Industry

According to Zippia.com,  the US beverage industry is valued at $146 billion. The U.S. drink industry includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage production and distribution. On average, alcoholic beverage sales generate roughly $252.82 billion annually across the nation, while non-alcoholic drink sales bring in an estimated $414,838 million per year.

In an effort to keep up with this growth, beverage manufacturers will need to keep up with consumer demands and trends while maintaining production capacity, sourcing ingredients and materials in the supply chain, keeping skilled labor, and upgrading outdated technology.

It’s predicted that the global beverage market will reach a value of more than $1.691 billion by the end of 2026. At that rate, the industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 1.7% over the next five years.

The  fastest growing segment of the beverage industry is Bottled water which is expected to grow at an annual compound rate of 7.4% between 2021-2026, much faster than the 1.7% CAGR the beverage industry is expected to experience over the same period.

Americans today as in no period in their history have become extremely health conscious. People are exercising, walking, dieting, taking vitamin and mineral supplements, eliminating smoking, stress and most of all avoiding the wrong foods and eating the right ones. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hot filled, non-carbonated, beverage industry. Juices and juice blends of any fruit or vegetable available to man, teas and drinks made of any flavor imaginable, diet or no carb, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and sports and energy drinks are fast replacing carbonated beverages as America’s choice.

Beverage IndustryFor this reason many companies look for  OU Kosher certification to provide kosher certified non-carbonated hot filled beverages to a large growing market.  This has proven to be very challenging for OU Kosher, as the level of certification in hot filled beverage plants tends to be more complicated than in many other industries and demands a level of cooperation between the company and OU Kosher, that is not required in other plants, due to the constant need for kosherization (the kosher sanitization of equipment previously used for non-kosher when shifting to kosher production). 

The most sensitive ingredient in any non-carbonated hot filled beverage plant is non-certified grape juice. It is well known that all vegetables and fruits and their natural juices are inherently kosher. The exception to this is the grape. Due to the sacramental usage of wine by almost all of the world’s religions, almost dating back to man’s creation, the rabbis felt the need to make special kosher requirements that apply not only to wine, but also to grape juice and to any product produced from either of them.  If any of these requirements are not adhered to, not only is the juice, wine or products derived or containing them not acceptable to consume, but in addition they render any equipment used in their production, kept in them for more than twenty-four hours or heated in them at a temperature of over 1200F, non-kosher. 

Kosherization prior to being used for kosher productions is required, something that can be time consuming and very costly. It is for this reason that the OU encourages all companies that possibly can to eliminate totally their use of non-kosher grape juice and to use in all their productions grape juice whose certification has been approved for use by the OU. In addition, the exclusive use of kosher certified grape juice creates many more products that are available to the kosher consumer, providing additional revenue for the bottler, which can offset the greater expense of kosher juice. And now, supply chain limitations, mainly the reduction of grape yields has added new challenges to  grape juice production.  

Another group of very sensitive ingredients are flavors and colors, not all of which are acceptable. The use of milk, whey, milk derivatives or any ingredient that is dairy, if used in an all-pareve plant–even if certified–are of much concern. Vitamins such as ascorbic acid and riboflavin which are commonly added to most juices and drinks, and vitamin blends which are very popular in energy and sports drinks, can be problematic and require certification, as does citric acid, another common additive. 

The OU always advises the use, if possible, of an ingredient having OU Kosher certification, to the use of the same ingredient which is not kosher certified, even if the particular production that the ingredient will be used in is not certified and even if it takes place on lines where certified products are never run. This practice eliminates the possibility of mix-ups, which may require downtime, costly kosherization and possible recalls.

Hot filled beverage plants with few exceptions process both kosher and nonkosher products, thereby necessitating the need for kosherization. Food processing plants have traditionally been situated adjacent to the source of the foods that they process. Since apples and grapes grow in the same climatic regions and can share much common processing and bottling equipment, concentrators and storage tanks, most apple processing plants, in addition, extract grapes into juice. This creates the need for kosherization prior to production of apples or other kosher juices. After the grape juice season there may be times during the year once the crush has ended and the equipment has been kosherized, that a company has a necessity to repress sediment found at the bottom of its tanks or re-concentrate grape juice, thereby requiring re-kosherization of the equipment. In such instances, the company must inform the OU of its need for re-kosherization and make the necessary arrangements for it with the RFR and office.

Pasteurizers and fillers are also used to process and bottle both certified and non-certified product and therefore require kosherization. Non-certified formulas containing grape juice or grape juice blends, in addition to formulas containing other non-acceptable ingredients, are bottled with certified formulas on the same line, on the same day. In order to eliminate the need for more than one kosherization a day, the OU Kosher recommends creating a sequence of daily productions, first pasteurizing and bottling certified products and then non-certified, scheduling all production of certified formulas that are scheduled to be run on the same line, on that day so that they are produced at the beginning of the day, then followed by those formulas that do not appear on the schedule B and are not certifiable, with kosherization prior to the next day’s production. Companies which only bottle one product a day per line, should kosherize the morning after the non-certified products are processed.

Generally OU Kosher requires a representative to be present at all kosherizations. In special circumstance, this requirement may be waived, for example, if the C.I.P., or cleaning performed of the lines, conforms to OU kosherization standards and is always performed at consistent intervals–requirements that must be verifiable. In addition, daily production sheets showing the order, the name and number of each formula run on each line must be made readily available to the RC and RFR.

Since hot filled beverage plants may manufacture numerous varieties of non-kosher products, the possibility of a non-kosher ingredient finding its way into a kosher product is a major concern. Standard OU protocol provides an airtight level of supervision to prevent this type of mishap. All raw materials at the facility should appear on the OU approved listing, Schedule A, regardless as to whether they are used in an OU certified product. Non-kosher ingredients that are used in non-kosher products appearing on the schedule A and are classified as Group Six Allowed. This enables the OU to monitor the presence of all the ingredients in the plant. Furthermore, OU certified companies do not purchase compatible sources of kosher and non-kosher ingredients, once the kosher source is used in an OU certified product. All equivalent raw materials used for non-kosher labels must be kosher approved as well. Checking for kosher and non-kosher ingredients is an integral part of the RFR inspection.

All plants must submit their formulas to OU Kosher for review. Each beverage formula must include the product and brand name and number. In addition, each formula should list each ingredient used, the name of its source and the name or number assigned to the ingredient by the manufacturer. The company’s formulas are kept in an office file under strict confidence. Due to the sensitive nature of the information handled by the OU office, at times companies may insist upon a legally binding nondisclosure agreement prior to releasing any confidential information. The Orthodox Union is very sensitive to the security concerns of companies, and gladly respects this request.

Once submitted, the beverage formulas are reviewed by the RC (Rabbinic Coordinator). Companies producing formulas whose ingredients have all been found to be acceptable and appear on the schedule A and therefore certifiable, but are not presently being bottled under a label for which OU Kosher certification has been requested, are encouraged to submit them for review so that these formulas, if found certifiable, can be run at the same time as other certified formulas in the kosher certification sequence. They can be added to the schedule B under an innocuous in-house brand name.

Hot filled beverage plants typically possess a plethora of kosher and non-kosher in-house, copack and private labels. Extreme care and attention must be devoted to the graphic design of the labels, to ensure that the OU symbol does not inadvertently appear on a non-kosher in-house, private label or co-pack product. To safeguard against any labeling error, companies will develop an internal system of proofreading, and should always verify that the OU Kosher symbol properly appears on a label. Reviewing all labels, whether kosher or non-kosher, for the presence of the OU symbol should be part of standard proofreading procedures. Since the number of labels may be vast, plants often possess a label book that greatly facilitates the RFR’s inspection. The presence of a label book at the plant inevitably brings benefits to plant personnel as well, as it provides an organized and concise record of a company’s many labels.

The dynamics of OU Kosher’s supervision at hot filled beverage plants is undoubtedly very complicated but despite those challenges OU Kosher certifies thousands of beverages commonly found on consumers’ tables. Through meeting these many demands and developing an excellent working relationship with the plants, the OUKosher services its kosher certified companies and the health conscious kosher consumer. 

OU Kosher Staff