“But Rabbi, before we start I want you to know…we also do non-kosher!!!” Those words, often uttered during an initial conversation about potential kosher certification of a new plant, often sound like a confession.
Is all really lost? Is the fact that your plant handles non-kosher and OU Kosher a deal breaker? The answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no, and often it depends on several other factors. Are you thinking about getting one of your plants OU Kosher-certified but have hitherto refrained for fear it would be an impossibility? Maybe you are doing so unnecessarily! There are several factors which might ameliorate the concerns of non-kosher being handled in the plant. If any of these apply, the handling of non-kosher might not need to be changed at all in the process of kosher certification.
• OU kosher might consider the nature of the non-kosher product. Sometimes, the item being handled is merely non-certified, not “non-kosher.” Or in other words, it might be an item OU Kosher is not comfortable allowing in use in OU products, but we don’t deem it non-kosher enough to affect the kosher status of the equipment. This would depend heavily on what OU Kosher considers the concern on the item to be, and whether we believe the item in question might be used in kosher production. For example, a plant repacking a citric acid which doesn’t have kosher supervision wouldn’t automatically lose consideration for kosher because of it. We might not accept every citric acid as intrinsically kosher, but it won’t necessarily effect kosher production.
• How the kosher product is handled versus the non-kosher is another situation in which OU Kosher might allow certification. Sometimes the method of handling the non-kosher is so completely different from the kosher, that we have no concern of cross-over. A plant might have a non-certified oil roaster for nuts, and look to have their sunflower seed repacking operation become kosher approved. Since the oil-roasting process would be completely separate from the kosher (cold repacking) production, we would likely have no concern about crossover or contamination.
• Sometimes the actual method of handling both kosher and non-kosher are too similar to designate a kosher versus non-kosher area, but the actual non-kosher item is so different from the kosher one that the concern of mix-up is deemed minimal. For example, a cold, liquid-blending flavor house blending various chocolate flavors might also need to handle a sensitive grape item which OU Kosher would not allow into OU products. Since grape notes (like a symphony, flavors are composed of notes) are rarely used in chocolate flavors, we might be able to allow the plant to handle that grape item. The plant’s cleaning and handling procedures would need to be reviewed, as well as guarantees set up to make sure the non-kosher item is not handled together with the kosher, but the use of the grape item does not automatically prevent the ability to grant kosher supervision.
• Another factor which might allow non-kosher and kosher on the same premises is the level of physical separation between the kosher and non-kosher areas, and the differences in production between them. A plant which produces non-kosher shelf-stable airline meals might hang a floor to ceiling curtain to separate its kosher line making cookies. Since the equipment is totally different and the concern of non-kosher equipment being used in kosher is very small, the distance placed between kosher and non-kosher would be a mitigating factor. Lines would likely need to be traced to confirm there is no cross-over of piping, steam systems or various hand tools. If the plant is able to demonstrate the level of separation is sufficient, the non-kosher might be viewed as being in a different facility altogether.
What if after reading the above considerations, you believe the non-kosher in your plant is a more serious concern than these examples? Does that mean your plant’s kosher plans have been dashed? Not by any means. You may need to make some changes to accommodate kosher, or otherwise incur some increased cost and limitations to produce a kosher product, but it is not altogether out of the question.
• Depending on what the non-kosher item is, many times a kosher substitute ingredient can be found. Many times the OU experts can assist your company in finding alternate suppliers for ingredients that are already kosher-certified, or manufacturers which can customize a specific blend to meet your needs. Sometimes a formula needs to be reworked to avoid using a kosher-sensitive ingredient. Having the option on the table gives your marketing department something to consider when examining the potential benefit in sales by adding OU Kosher supervision to your product.
• Some manufacturers have found ways of outsourcing their non-kosher production. One smoked salmon facility was denied OU certification for many years due to its handling of shellfish. The demand for its product to become OU Kosher-certified became so great that the management team began investigating ways of outsourcing the shellfish production. The day before my initial inspection, the plant was visited by a neighboring plant that was looking to increase its work volume. This neighbor had both trained workers and space to offer, and asked if this smoked salmon plant might have an idea of how to fill that space. In the end, the offer was a perfect fit for them. Though this smoked salmon producer needed to kosherize its equipment prior to becoming OU- certified, the product was able to be granted OU supervision because the non-kosher previously there was completely removed and no longer presented an issue to the kosher program.
• Sometimes non-kosher production can be limited to a small date range, in which case the plant can work with the OU to be allowed a period of “non-certification” when its kosher products and labels will be segregated and sealed, and the equipment allowed to be used for non-kosher production. Sometimes the non-kosher is of such great concern that OU Kosher may require a field supervisor to be present during the handling of non-kosher. Following the non-kosher production, the rabbi would kosherize the equipment to return it to kosher status, and allow OU production to resume.
While handling non-kosher in an OU kosher-certified facility is always a potential concern, the kosher experts at the Orthodox Union have, in the past, come up with some creative and valuable ways to allow a facility committed to making kosher products to do so despite also handling non-kosher. With a spirit of professionalism and cooperation, the team at OU Kosher looks forward to working with your company to find mutually acceptable ways of handling all of your plant’s production needs while maintaining the highest standards of kosher processing – OU Kosher-certification.