High Above Cayuga’s Waters, Cornell’s New State of the Art Dairy Plant Becomes OU Kosher

Though only two percent of the U.S. population is Jewish, more than 40 percent of packaged food and beverages in the U.S. were labeled as kosher in 2014, according to Lubicom Marketing Consulting.

And now, the Cornell Dairy Plant, which produces milk and juices, yogurt and its famous ice cream, is on board, having officially become kosher on April 18, 2016.

“We try to strive for inclusiveness,” said Deanna Simons, quality manager at Cornell Dairy. “Part of our mission is teaching, research and extension, so it serves us to be more inclusive and maybe reach a part of the Cornell community that we haven’t been able to reach before.” This includes 104 West, Cornell’s Multi-Cultural Dining Hall that is currently under OU supervision and its satellite operation at the other end of campus where there is a kosher server within a general all-you-care-to-eat dining facility. 

Dr. Joe Regenstein is a professor emeritus of food science and an expert in kosher laws. So in 2014 his idea to get the Cornell Dairy to consider going kosher was favorably received. And so the process began. The decision to shift the dairy’s practices had been brewing in Dr. Regenstein’s mind for many years. At various times the OU supervised kosher dining hall on campus had asked him about the kosher status of Cornell’s dairy plant, but with the opening of a brand new plant in 2014, it became possible to seriously consider such a transition. 

Dr. Regenstein is the head of Cornell’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative, a unique program that serves the kosher food industry and which teaches a large class each year on kosher and halal food regulations. (The course is also offered by distance learning at Kansas State University.)

The idea seemed doable to Ms. Simons and Tim Barnard, Cornell Dairy plant manager, both of whom worked in the dairy industry prior to coming to Cornell. They found kosher certification is common among U.S. dairies but not campus dairy plants.

The transition at Cornell Dairy required some adjustments, said Barnard. “All the ingredients that we put in our ice cream, for example, are now kosher-certified,” he said. “So it takes more time and a little more effort to find suppliers who are compliant.” The same will be true for ingredients used when researching new products, he said.

Dr. Regenstein also notes that there is one class in his department where the students develop their own ice cream flavors in small teams each year. The winning flavor is “promised” one production run and if the sales are good, the product may be added to the regular offerings.  Thus, in the future these will need to be kosher – which offers a wonderful learning opportunity for the students. Cornell often develops special flavors for special occasions and this will offer another opportunity to introduce the idea of kosher to a wider audience. Having a kosher dairy also means that Cornell Dining can offer a “kosher” Cornell ice cream sundae social as part of its catering program.

Rabbi Moshe Heimowitz, representing the Orthodox Union, the organization that certifies close to 70 percent of all kosher foods in the U.S., came to the dairy on April 18 and supervised the equipment kosherization process. “To kosherize the equipment, dairy staff ran almost boiling hot water through all the systems that are normally heated above 110 degrees,” Dr. Regenstein said. Rabbi Heimowitz also checked that all the ingredients in the warehouse are now certified kosher. A rabbi will come back on a regular basis to check compliance. The event was filmed so the video can be used for educational purposes and one student was able to attend. 

The Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine manages about 700 milk-producing cows. The dairy uses that milk to make pasteurized and chocolate milks, ice cream and yogurt, which are sold on campus, in the dining halls, and at the Dairy Bar in the newly renovated Stocking Hall on campus. The next step is to make the ice cream dipping area of the Dairy Bar, a landmark on campus, a ‘kosher” facility so that everyone at Cornell or visiting Cornell can enjoy kosher ice cream. 

This plant is probably the first time an on-campus food production facility has received kosher certification in the world, so this was an opportunity for both Cornell and the OU to partnership in a unique new venture.

Because Cornell’s dairy plant is part of the State University of New York, sales opportunities are limited, but they are allowed to sell to state organizations. So in the future the hope is that some of the other state (or New York City schools) and other official institutions will make the famous Cornell ice cream available to their clients.