Food Fraud in the News: And a Label You Can Count On

The media’s recent coverage of major findings of fraud in the food industry has understandably prompted consumer concern – and mistrust.

Back in 2013, the scandal involving England’s food industry made major news; it was discovered that horse meat was being sold as beef. Today, claims of food fraud are much closer to home. Along with the persistent allegations of adulteration of olive oil, pomegranate juice, and honey, food inspectors have found that much of the seafood industry is unfortunately not what it claims to be. Tests have shown that about one-third of fish sold as red snapper are mislabeled.

Whether one is concerned with food safety, or just doesn’t want to get ripped off, knowing that you are getting what it says on the label is a fundamental right.

For the kosher consumer, these indictments have an added dimension. They also raise questions as to the kosher integrity of the products that we buy. While not every type of fraud inherently affects the kosher status of the product, these reports are a wakeup call for more consumer vigilance.

How can I verify that a package of kosher meat was properly slaughtered and salted following all the kosher laws? How do I know that the fish fillet that I am purchasing came from a kosher species of fish that had both fins and scales? OU Kosher, the world’s largest certifier of kosher products, deals with such questions on a daily basis.

Though it is impossible to prevent every type of fraud, the kosher inspection process helps to deter such duplicitous behavior and protects the integrity of the products. The certifying process begins at the first step in the supply chain where there may be a question of kosher authenticity.

The following are some examples of procedures that we implement that help us verify that a product is kosher.

  • Unannounced visits: OU Kosher requires that its Rabbinic Field Representatives (RFRs) be allowed access to the plant whenever it is open. An RFR may drop by unannounced at any time and inspect the warehouses and production areas.
  • Access to records and record keepers: OU Kosher mandates that production and sanitation records be made available for inspection and that plant personnel who are responsible for these tasks be made available to answer questions pertaining to these records.
  • Compatibility issues: In general OU Kosher does not permit compatible kosher and non-kosher ingredients to be stored at the same facility.
  • Kosher sensitive inventory must be kept sealed: OU demands that kosher meat, fish, cheese or wine/grape juice be kept sealed. Because these products often have less expensive non-kosher equivalents, the need for vigilance over these ingredients is greater. The bills of lading for these items must also be kept on file.
  • Kosher sensitive items such a meat, fish, cheese and wine/grape juice may only be sold in sealed tamper-proof packaging.

While the focus of OU Kosher inspections is on maintaining the highest quality of kosher and not on preventing possible food fraud, the two issues often go hand in hand. An unscrupulous individual with no qualms about defrauding the public would also have no qualms about compromising on kosher.

In the midst of this latest food scandal, consumers can rest assured that when our worldwide network of kosher experts and representatives certify OU products as kosher, they’re unquestionably kosher.

Rabbi Eli Gersten serves as OU rabbinic coordinator and recorder of OU policy. He is a regular contributor to BTUS.

Rabbi Eli Gersten
Rabbi Eli Gersten serves as OU rabbinic coordinator and recorder of OU policy.