by Rabbi Tzvi Nussbaum & Rabbi Eli Eleff
The OU provides numerous platforms and channels for the kosher consumer to ascertain the status of OU Kosher certified products, p’sak and policies (See list below).
Numerous full-time employees, including a social media professional, manage the daily operations of each of these. The OU is the only internationally recognized hashgacha to have a full-time Rav dedicated to answering consumer questions, and the only agency that is open for questions on Erev Pesach.
HOW OU RESPONDS TO PESACH QUESTIONS
As early as Chanukah, the OU receives calls from suppliers and manufacturers inquiring about hard-to-find and sensitive Passover ingredients, and soon thereafter, the OU consumer hotline receives calls from consumers looking into Passover programs, trying to find ones with OU supervision. Shortly before Purim, the OU is inundated with calls and emails from consumers, who are doing early Passover shopping in order to beat the rush as they try to find “year-round” products for Passover (i.e. kosher-for-Passover products that bear a plain OU symbol and don’t require the special OU-P Passover symbol [see our list of these products beginning on page XX in the Consumer Guide]). The OU also gets flooded with questions from people who are already cooking for Passover in special Passover kitchens, and from store owners who are stocking their shelves and double-checking to be certain that the products received are indeed Passover-certified.
Consumer inquires increase within the weeks closer to Passover. Questions range from: Which quinoa is acceptable this year? How do I kasher my Keurig machine? Which coffee is acceptable with a plain OU symbol? May I purchase a specific brand of salmon without an OU-P? And just about anything else you could imagine…
Many consumers reach out to the OU to inquire about which medications, nutritional supplements and baby formulas are acceptable for Passover. The OU’s Ingredient Department diligently researches these products in order to provide fresh information to consumers about the health-related products they need most.
The call volume increases drastically as we enter the week before Passover; the OU braces itself for the 5,000-plus calls by having multiple operators assigned to the hotline during business hours; by extending the hotline hours; and by adding an extra hour daily, as well as Sunday hours the week before Passover. During this time, the OU consumer live chat and email options are used quite heavily by those who want to avoid wait time for a hotline operator to answer their call.
The key to our quick response time is proper preparation and training of the hotline operators at OU Kosher. Besides being fluent in the OU Guide to Passover, including its list of acceptable nutritional supplements, the operators must also familiarize themselves with the OU’s “year-round” Passover items. The OU’s team of hotline operators use an internal information-sharing program, which allows them all to be on the same page at this busiest time of the year.
With its finger on the pulse of Passover production, the OU is not just a responder to consumer inquiries, but is also equipped to help solve ex post facto Passover-related crises when they arise. For instance, in one recent case, an out-of-town community purchased what it believed was a kosher-for-Passover product and then found out that it was not Passover-certified. The OU team was able to use its integrated resources and data to help. Our research demonstrated that although the product wasn’t certified for Passover, it didn’t contain any chametz ingredients and was in fact not made on chametz equipment—making it allowable for the holiday.
Another recent crisis OU hotline operators helped resolve was a call from a frantic caterer who had already prepared his Passover menu and realized afterward that one of his ingredients stated “Not for Passover Use”; once again, the team sprang into action and was able to ascertain that the product did indeed meet kosher-for-Passover standards although not labeled as such.
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