Keeping Product Labels ‘Kosher’

By Rabbi David Arfa

It was a bright Monday morning, but Rabbi Weinstein of the Yes, It’s Kosher! agency felt uneasy. In the past hour, already two consumers had phoned his Kosher Hotline with the following query.

Mega-Mart, the bulk consumer emporium, was offering the popular confection, Organic Fruity Chews, available in five fruit flavors, each a separate, packeted SKU, packaged together in one bulk bag.

Recently, kosher certification had been terminated on this one product line, due to the shortage of organic grape juice. The manufacturer, The Sweet-But-Good Company, had searched world-wide for a supplier of organic grape juice concentrate that met product specifications. With no choice but to opt for a non-kosher-certified organic grape, they had to terminate the kosher certification of their cherry and grape SKUs. In the end, to avoid consumer confusion, Sweet-But-Good opted to pull certification from the entire Fruit Chews product line: grape, cherry, orange—the works.

Kosher Call from Cleveland

The hotline’s computer again blipped to attention: another incoming call. This time it was from a Mrs. Goldberg of Cleveland, Ohio, a thirty-something mother, of three boisterous, if organically-fed, boys. “Hello, is this the OU Kosher hotline?”

“It is.”

“Well, are Organic Fruity Chews kosher-certified or not?”

“They’ve been uncertified for several months now; what seems to be the problem?”

“There’s a kosher symbol on the outer wrapper of the bulk package that I bought at Mega-Mart. But there isn’t any symbol on the packets inside.”

As the scenario repeated itself several times that morning, Rabbi Weinstein was moved to figure out how the symbol got on the package—by an otherwise professional and kosher-cooperative account.

Several calls later, it was determined that the graphics department at Sweet-But-Good had cut-and-pasted an old jpg file of several of the SKUs onto the film of the bulk container, as a sampling of what was inside. One of those files happened to show the unmistakable ‘Yes, It’s Kosher!’ (YIK) symbol.

Apparently, the rabbi learned, Graphics was unaware of the presence of the kosher symbol on the old file—and perhaps not sufficiently aware of the concurrent lack of symbolage on the product label itself.

No doubt the kosher contact at The Sweet-But-Good Company might have wondered: what are the best practices with which one could avoid a similar scenario in the future?

Kosher from (Schedule) A to Z 

The best practice in kosher-marked labels is simple: Keep tabs on the product’s kosher status from start to finish. Both the purchasing and receiving departments must be acquainted with the ‘Schedule A’ of the OU Kosher program.

The Schedule A is a rider to the kosher contract, and is the mutually-agreed-upon roster of materials approved for kosher production. This document lists the label name, brand name, specific source and kosher certification agency of each approved raw material—among other important kosher specs.

If the receiving department pushes through a raw material with the wrong source, or lacking any of the kosher specifications mentioned on Schedule A, it could find its way into finished product. These errors are usually caught in time. But if an unapproved RM finds its way into finished product packaged with a OU Kosher symbol—it could create a kosher-consumer concern.

Schedule-A-graphic

The above is a snippet of a Schedule A, to which purchasing and receiving departments refer to meet kosher specifications. As they scan the document from left to right, they are prompted to ask the following questions:

  • Does the ingredient name on the incoming container match the name printed here?
  • Does the distributor info on the container match this specific source?
  • Is this container OU-certified, or whichever agency is mentioned in that column?
  • Which ‘group’ of ingredients is it in? (See “GROUP DEFINITIONS” along the top.) Is it in ‘Group 3’ (and will need to show the kosher symbol on the container) or ‘Group 4’ (and shipped in tankers, requiring an added, kosher tanker cert?)

Pareve for the Course?

Companies would do well to consult with this document when preparing formulas—especially the ‘D/P/M’ column. This column depicts the all-important dairy/pareve status. Products that will bear a plain OU must be processed as pareve/non-dairy, while those with an OU-D symbol must not. A glance at Schedule A during formula preparation will confirm that no ‘D’ (dairy-status) ingredients find their way into a pareve formula.

Companies operating ‘mixed’ (kosher/non-kosher, or kosher-dairy/kosher-pareve) plants will need to confirm that any products to be marked with a plain-OU symbol are made in kosher-pareve mode, while those with the OU-D symbol are produced in kosher-dairy mode. Kosher agencies’ field rabbis monitor production matrixes to document this—and if an OU-pareve product were produced in dairy mode, a kosher concern would emerge.

The Art of Kosher

But far from the production line, the graphics department, too, will need to keep tabs on kosher docs. They would need to treat kosher symbols with the same sensitivity with which they’re trained to regard other professional icons—as protected trademarks which require confirmation prior to usage. Is the product kosher-certified? And if so with other brands, is this particular (new) brand kosher-certified? To address these concerns, the graphics department might familiarize themselves with another important document—the Schedule B.

Schedule-B-ARFA2

Here, too, a glance at Schedule B provides a brief list of OU Kosher specifications with which to reckon when designing product labels. Is a product certified at all? The above selection indicates that it’s “terminated,” not a candidate for kosher-labeling. Do we use the plain-OU jpg, or the OU-D? A glance at Schedule B will confirm which symbol to employ.

In the earlier Mega-Mart tale, the Sweet-But-Good graphics folks overlooked the errant symbol printed on the graphic. Those staffers could have eyeballed that graphic with the same care as film that features other trademarks. Fortunately, the story had a happy ending. The kosher symbol was depicted on the jpg of the kosher, though no-longer-certified, orange-flavored SKU, deemed acceptable by the YIK, after the fact. And the story was a learning experience for all those involved in kosher labeling at Sweet-But-Good: to monitor kosher compliance from raw material to finished, labeled product.

Rabbi David Arfa serves as OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator for a roster of chemical and botanical companies. He received his rabbinic training at seminaries in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where he now lives with his family.

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