Nothing Fishy Here: Beyond The Four-Year Process At Ocean Nutrition To Make Fish Oil Kosher

The task of kosher certification for such an endeavor was not for the faint of heart.

Those of us working in the field of kosher certification at the Orthodox Union have the distinct opportunity (and obligation) to be on top of new technologies, and new developments in food production. Long before Omega-3s were front-page news in the major media, the Orthodox Union received numerous inquiries into sources for kosher fish oil. The demand for kosher fish oil that could meet all standards made the opportunity for such a supplier obvious.

We were not the only ones who noticed the potential for high-quality kosher fish oil. The folks at Ocean Nutrition, in Nova Scotia, Canada, who were already committed to producing some of the highest quality fish oil on planet Earth, decided that they could be the ones to take advantage of this opportunity.

The task of kosher certification for such an endeavor was not for the faint of heart. Unlike most commercial productions, extensive preparations and planning were required before the Orthodox Union could even begin to discuss certifying an extracted fish oil product. Indeed, the Orthodox Union assigned one of its top Rabbinic Field Representatives to assist in the preliminary fieldwork required.

Rabbi Yaakov Blugrond, a 15-year veteran of the OU’s kosher certification division, is a world-renowned expert in the field of equipment kosherizations. Rabbi Blugrond saw the vast importance of this assignment, and turned it into a true labor of love. But even for the immensely capable rabbi, being a partner in the development of Ocean Nutrition’s fledgling kosher program was quite an assignment indeed, although as Rabbi Blugrond pointed out, ”Having a company as cooperative as Ocean Nutrition made the task a full 50 percent easier”.

Acting as the OU’s eyes and ears in the field, Rabbi Blugrond constantly relayed information about the practical workings of each Ocean Nutrition production phase to the office.This allowed our staff of Rabbinic Coordinators and Kashrus Law Consultants to construct the kosher program.

From the initial application until the OU issued a Letter of Certification for the finished product was a four-year period of perseverence and dedication. Under similar circumstances, one could imagine a company rethinking the value of continuing with the stringent requirements of kosher certification. For the folks at Ocean Nutrition, no obstacle is too great, and focus on the goal kept the process moving. Rabbi Amatzia Argentar, a Rabbinic Field Representative who assisted in production, commented, “Ocean Nutrition feels strongly that they are onto something very positive with OU kosher certification.”

Kosher oil production starts at an extraction facility in the various areas where menhaden, herrings and tunas are harvested. The OU requires that the extraction happen under on-site rabbinic supervision, confirming that the level of by-catch entering the extraction process is “absolute zero.” In addition, all oil made on this equipment prior to the rabbi’s arrival is regarded by the OU as non-kosher and requires a complete kosherization of the affected equipment. Prior to kosherization, the equipment must be perfectly clean, not a small order in an extraction facility whose most stringent CIP “is not good enough” for the rabbi.

Ocean Nutrition made it clear to every facility involved in the OU kosher production that the rabbi’s requirements must be fulfilled without a single compromise. Imagine the scene: every piece of production equipment, holding tank, pipe and belt… sparkling!

Next was the issue of identifying the kosher loads from the non-OU certified productions. For the on-site supervisor, a system of sealing containers (and kosherized equipment) was arranged. For the producer, every line manager and shift director had to understand the changes to standard production that the OU requires. Every worker involved then had to be instructed in new production protocols in order to comply with the OU kosher program.Word quickly spread around the company,“Remember that no QC testing can take place unless the Rabbi opens the seals and reseals it afterwards!!”

Kosherized equipment has to remain sealed to guarantee that no non-kosher product is run on the equipment before the next kosher production; even changes in steam system piping cannot take place unless the rabbi approves it.

The raw extracted oil then travels through a semi-refining process, a refining process, and finally a spray-drying process. Each plant had another set of OU kosher protocols to be instituted, new production equipment which needed different forms of kosherization, a new set of workers who must be prepared for the needs of the new kosher regulations, and various other kosher challenges to rise up and meet. Throughout the process, all levels of Ocean Nutrition’s staff were single-minded in their commitment to the very strictest level of kosher supervision.

Ocean Nutrition invested considerable resources in meeting the OU’s requirements. Complete new systems had to be installed, including separate steam systems and dedicated reactors, and all of it had to be done in such a way as to guarantee that no crossover between kosher and non-kosher would occur.

In some cases, the OU requirements extended past the usual kosher program. In order to keep Rabbinic Field Representatives on-site for extended periods of time, the OU needed to have separate quarters set up for the rabbis, including a Sukkah (a type of ritual booth) during the duration of the September holiday and changes in production times to allow the rabbi to rest on the Sabbath.

In total, it took more than seven Rabbinic Field Representatives, in addition to Rabbi Blugrond’s field oversight, three Rabbinic Coordinators, and countless meetings between senior management and our in-house Kashrut Law Consultants to give the best kosher supervision to Ocean Nutrition’s products imaginable. As Rabbi Argentar put it, “Ocean Nutrition was very obliging in making sure the job was done well, to the mutual benefit of Ocean Nutrition and the kosher consumer.”

The word has spread, and manufacturers around the globe know the address for the highest quality kosher Omega 3 fish oil is Ocean Nutrition, under the proud and exacting kosher supervision of the Orthodox Union.