As an OU certified company, the primary contact you have with the OU, besides your rabbinic coordinator (RC) at OU headquarters, is your RFR (rabbinic field representative). Out in the field, the RFR is the face of the OU, and you may not be aware that your RFR is both a valuable source of information and can provide service that you should be aware of — and avail yourself of.
Many company reps who are assigned to work with the OU Kosher program are not fully aware of the tools that are at their disposal or what assistance can be obtained from their friendly visiting RFR. You are no doubt familiar with organic certifiers, government agencies (FDA, USDA, etc.), as well as third-party auditors like SQF, BRA and AIB. Kosher certification is a very different program, and your RFR also has a very different role compared to other auditors.
For example, under the NOP, organic inspectors are barred from providing any assistance to the company they are auditing. They can only conduct the audit and report findings. The same is usually the case with other third-party auditors who only inspect and report — and let’s not even bother to talk about government agencies! The OU Kosher program is quite different: Your RFR, while certainly coming to inspect your facility for kosher compliance, is also willing and able to provide a host of assistance.
Looking for help locating a kosher ingredient? Your RFR may well know where to get what you are looking for; after all he sees thousands of ingredients on his route in your area. If he doesn’t know, he can check the OU Direct database (and even better, show you how to do so as well!) or talk to the OU head office’s Ingredient Group who have access to the largest database of kosher ingredients in the world.
You probably have utilized your RFR’s services to assist in working through certification requests or ingredient approvals. Sometimes the office may get bogged down, or it’s even possible that a request did not get to the right place. If you have a request pending, you should certainly call or email your RC at OU Kosher headquarters, but mention this to your RFR as well.
Contemplating a change in your plant? Looking at new or changed equipment? Adding a new line? Plan to start a new product? All of these are good reasons to touch base with your RFR. Consulting with your rabbi on projects even just in the planning stages can be a very valuable exercise that pays off in a significant way. Your RFR can review plans with you, identify any potential issues for the kosher program and even help you problem solve before implementation. All this can lead to a much simplified kosher process latter on.
As an example, say you are looking at a piece of equipment that will be purchased from another company. Consulting with your RFR about the upcoming purchase plans could pay off in big dividends. He can help you research the kosher status of the equipment, and if it is coming from a kosher plant, help preserve that kosher status during the move and installation – and save you the time, trouble and expense of re-koshering after installation. Sometime the equipment just isn’t kosher. Your RFR can help you with planning the kosherization process and often times save you a lot of trouble by coming up with a koshering protocol that can be completed in conjunction with the installation or during trials.
Another area where your rabbi is a valuable resource is in the use of the OU Direct system. If you are already a “power user” of the system you’re in great shape. But those who are not as familiar with OU Direct — are you aware of all the tools that are at your disposal through our company specific, web-based application? OU Direct is an invaluable tool for keeping your schedules A and B current, submitting ingredient and product information, obtaining customized LOC’s and a host of other tasks. If you need a tour or help becoming familiar, your RFR can sit down with you and walk you through the system, showing you all the countless benefits that are available.
Naturally, issues do sometimes come up where a problem is found during a kosher inspection. The RFR has an obligation to report to the main office, but unlike other certification programs our focus is not on issuing a citation but on making a correction. Our field staff can work out solutions and help you get the program back on track. We want to work with you as our partner in making kosher products available to consumers!
The next time you get paged by reception to find out “the rabbi is here,” don’t just think of his visit as just another audit. Feel free to take advantage of the wealth of information he has to share – and don’t look at him as another auditor, but as your personal OU Kosher Customer Service Agent!
Rabbi Simcha Smolensky, a seasoned kashrut professional, joined OU Kosher’s staff in 2008 as a Chicago-based rabbinic field representative. He previously worked for several agencies in both a field and administrative capacity, including the Vaad of Denver, Chicago Rabbinical Council, Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis, and Vaad of Winnipeg.