Dream Team: Company Kosher Contacts Are An Important Component Of The OU Team

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines teamwork as “work performed by several associates, each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.” At the OU, we try to work together as a team to come up with unique solutions to the unique challenges that kosher certification presents. But before one can talk about teamwork, one must first define the team. The OU team is not only comprised of the Rabbinic Field Representatives (RFRs), Rabbinic Coordinators (RCs), Kosher Law Advisory Board and support staff, but also includes a key component, our partners at the various companies; specifically our kosher contacts. It is often their experience and ingenuity that overcomes the challenges to create the solutions.

One particular case that comes to mind involves a sophisticated spray dryer that required kosherization. A common obstacle in kosherizing spray dryers is the difficulty in achieving hot enough water temperatures throughout the dryer. Because of their massive size and the cooling effect created by evaporating water, even with copious amounts of boiling water sprayed through the CIP systems, it is difficult to achieve adequate exit temperatures. In this particular case, the dryer had a rotary valve near the outlet that could not reach temperature. Several attempts were made to raise the temperature the necessary few degrees, but none were successful. The temperature probes showed that from the rotary valve on down, we were below kosherization temperatures.

With time running out and a large kosher contract on the line, we called a team meeting between the RC, the RFR, advisory members and the kosher contact. Various ideas where put forward, but none of them were radically different from what had already been tried, and it was doubtful if any would be successful. Finally it became clear to the kosher contact that it was not necessary to kosherize by spraying boiling water. What we were really interested in was any method that would bring the rotary valve in contact with boiling water. So the kosher contact suggested that instead of focusing on increased temperature and methods for limiting thermal loss, we could sidestep the whole issue by simply removing the rotary valve and accompanying piping. We could then boil it up separately in a large steam kettle. Though the stainless steel machinery weighs several hundred pounds, it can be hoisted up with a chain attached to a mobile crane, transported to the kettle and boiled.

In another example, a company wanted to produce a pareve chip. Although all the ingredients in the chip were pareve, the seasonings were applied in a tumbler that was also used for dairy. In order to label this product pareve, the RFR would have to kosherize after every dairy production. Because the company needed greater flexibility in its scheduling, the project was stalled for many weeks. Finally we were able to have a team meeting, and all the options were laid out on the table. It was explained that if only there were some way to reduce the temperature of the chips such that they would enter the tumbler at below 110° F, we could avoid the need for kosherization. Given the physical constraints of this plant, this would be no easy task. The chips would need about 70 degrees of cooling in a very limited space. But the company’s engineering department was up to the task. It indeed devised a system of inclined belts and exhaust fans that were able to cool off the chips to the necessary temperature.

Our goal is to create systems of maximal efficiency, while keeping with the highest kosher standards. To make this work takes teamwork. Working together we can turn complex issues into workable solutions; the key is having the right people on the team.

Rabbi Eli Gersten serves as OU rabbinic coordinator — recorder of OU policy. In that important capacity, he works closely with OU’s senior rabbinic team that reviews and formulates OU Kosher policy. A frequent contributor to BTUS, his “A Kosher Formula” appeared in the Summer 2010 issue.