Bodek Kosher Produce: First in the Kosher Vegetable Revolution

So Your’re Looking For An Easy Salad? No problem. Rip open a bag of lettuce, add dressing, and voilà – you’ve got your salad. Want something more exotic? Try the freezer section – broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, frozen strawberries – all strictly kosher and ready to use. No big deal, you think. Couldn’t be easier.

Not so, says Yechiel Weinman, one of the founders and developers of Bodek Kosher Produce. Quite recently, lettuce only came on heads, broccoli only came in bunches, and kosher consumers thought twice before using them and many others. Despite their health benefits – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables are nutrient powerhouses – the kashrut implications were weighty. These vegetables are prone to insect infestation – and insects are strictly forbidden by the Torah.

About twenty years ago, Tzvi Gartenhaus, together with Mr.Weinman and Shaul Perlstein, embarked on a mission to provide kosher consumers with insect-free produce.

“I was speaking to Rabbi Shlomo Gissinger and Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Sokol, who had begun an intensive campaign to educate kosher consumers,” says Mr. Gartenhaus. “They realized that people weren’t aware of the issues. The average head of lettuce contains as many as 30 thrips and aphids, and certain vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, are so infested, they are practically impossible to clean by hand. The rabbis were making presentations in schools and yeshivas and waking up people to the problem. It was incredible – eating an insect is six times worse than eating treif, and people just didn’t know.”

“I always had this dream of providing kosher consumers with insect-free vegetables,” Mr. Gartenhaus said, “and as we were talking, we realized that there had to be a way to clean vegetables with high-pressure water. So guided by these experts in bedikat tolaim – in inspecting foods for insects–we researched water systems and began experimenting. Soon, we found that we could indeed render lettuce and cabbage insect-free–and Bodek was born.”

From the start, Bodek was embraced by kosher consumers. Suddenly lettuce, cabbage, and specially-grown broccoli, cauliflower and other vegetables were back on the menu, in thousands of homes, restaurants, and food manufacturing plants. Consumers began to ask for the Bodek sign.

“Bodek became almost a symbol of kashrut,” says a company representative. “But it was our kashrut certification that helped us become that symbol.”

Bodek products are certified by the OU, the CRC, and Rabbi Gissinger of Lakewood. Bodek chose the OU both for its high standards and for its universal acceptance. The OU is accepted by virtually every segment of the Orthodox Jewish community.

“The rabbis at the OU were so excited about Bodek, and encouraged us to expand and find ways to remove insects from more vegetables,” said Mr. Gartenhaus. “Many, if not all, of Bodek’s clients, both in the wholesale and retail markets, choose Bodek especially because of its kosher certifications.”

“Interestingly,” Mr. Weinman adds, “Bodek soon became known for its high quality as well. Because insects tend to infest lesser-quality produce, Bodek purchases only the highest grade vegetables. And it is constantly developing new ways to improve its products.”

“Within the last year, technological developments in both the washing process and packaging have more than doubled our products’ shelf life,” says Mr. Gartenhaus. “And we are always developing new vegetable blends and packaging concepts to provide consumers with more choices.”

Some recent developments?

Sliced fresh onions; new soup mixes and frozen blends; and the Bodek salad bowl, for health-conscious consumers seeking a satisfying meal on-the-go.

Bodek also changes its product line to reflect market conditions. This year, the asparagus crop was infested – so Bodek temporarily stopped processing asparagus.

One thing that never changed at Bodek is its insistence on cutting lettuce and cabbage into thin strips. That is because it is the only way to ensure that water reaches all surfaces. Larger cuts tend to leave clumps of lettuce or cabbage intact, and it is impossible to clean between the leaves.

It is its insistence on high standards that makes Bodek a leader in the bagged produce industry. Or, in the words of a housewife, “I trust Bodek. They invented the product, they created the standard, and they stick to it.”