What are the responsibilities of administering the world’s largest kosher certification agency?
Our obligation is first and foremost to serve Klal Yisrael.
On my visits to Israel, I would frequently visit Rav Elyashiv zt”l (the great Jerusalem posek), to discuss various halachic questions that we faced at OU. While his time was very much in demand, he generously found time to discuss OU matters with me. He was once asked why he made OU issues such a priority, and he explained that all of Klal Yisrael, in one form or another, relies upon OU Kosher. These matters are of vital public importance.
Kashrut supervision on a global level requires a large and complex infrastructure. At the core of that infrastructure are people, and we are steadfastly focused on hiring the most qualified personnel. While we obviously need to monitor our staff’s work and ensure that they are meeting our established goals, it is equally important that we are committed to them and to their families, providing the necessary support that helps them meet the responsibilities of our mission.
What changes has OU Kosher undergone during your tenure?
The OU has undergone and continues to undergo phenomenal quantitative and qualitative growth; this is reflected both in the number of products we certify and the factories we supervise. More than the numbers, though, we have created an organizational hierarchy that effectively and efficiently services the global operation we have become.
When I joined the OU 30 years ago, most of our activities were here in the United States. Today we are a global organization functioning all over the world. Consequently, much of our staff is also stationed abroad.
What are the real figures; how many OU Mashgichim? Certified Plants? Products?
Our 886 rabbinic field representatives, located across North America and throughout the world—from Europe to Australia, from China to South Africa—are as proficient in modern food production techniques and chemical and biological processes as they are in the intricacies of Jewish law.
Our New York headquarters staff consists of more than 50 rabbinic coordinators who serve as account executives for OU-certified companies; they are supplemented by a roster of ingredient specialists, flavor analysts and other support staff.
The OU is currently certifying over 800,000 products produced in more than 8,500 plants located in 100 countries around the world.
OU Kosher is the clear leader in the kosher food industry. As the world’s largest, most respected kosher certification agency, the OU certifies close to 70% of the kosher food sold worldwide.
Of well over 200,000 packaged food products on U.S. supermarket shelves, the OU kosher symbol is found on close to 70% of all products combined. THERE IS A GRAPH – LET ME KNOW IF YOU WANT/NEED IT
How is OU Kosher different from other kashrut agencies?
The OU is a true not-for-profit communal organization. All employees are salaried and are never connected to organizational revenue. The organization operates with real transparency, and decisions are always made on a multilevel basis. For these reasons, the OU operates with unparalleled integrity.
OU Kosher profits are plowed back into the community, supporting the OU’s many invaluable programs. To its credit, the lay leadership of the OU defers to the rabbinic staff in all matters of halacha and kashrut.
What makes the staff of OU Kosher so special?
Guided by OU Kosher CEO Rabbi (Menachem) Genack’s vision, OU Kosher’s rabbinic staff not only serves Klal Yisrael, but is also representative of Klal Yisrael. OU Kosher rabbinic staff, both at headquarters and in the field, includes graduates of every major yeshiva in the United States, and thus encompasses a variety of different backgrounds and cultures. The various perspectives from these backgrounds join together, ready to serve all segments of our community.
The common denominator among our staff is Torah erudition, organizational professionalism and Yirat Shamayim, all essential for the correct, effective and honest administration of a kashrut agency. I do not want to fail to mention the tremendous emphasis on mentschlichkeit. Our staff has to be able to interface with the industries that we supervise and the consumers we serve, and to function coherently as a group.
To what do you attribute the phenomenal sustained growth of the kosher market?
There are a number of important phenomena at play.
The sustained growth of kosher is a testament to the vitality of the Jewish community and its growth and dynamism. There is demand for kosher foods without compromise, and for the highest standards of kashrut without cutting any corners. The kosher consumer has become a discerning buyer. Keeping kosher no longer means a simple and unvaried diet. We demand gourmet and diversity. Both the manufacturers and OU Kosher have responded to this call.
The OU has invested heavily in making kosher an easier and positive experience for manufacturers. With state-of-the-art technology, a professional staff and a streamlined processes, we have established a kosher program that is user-friendly.
What are some of the recent innovations and developments at OU Kosher?
As technologies have advanced, we too have stayed on the cutting edge. We have been able to make much of our information systems accessible remotely, providing instantaneous access for both our field staff and clients across the globe. For example, our database of over one million approved ingredients can be accessed at any time via www.OUDirect.org.
We offer regular continuing education programs to ensure that our staff is well trained and able to meet the challenges of an industry that is constantly expanding and innovating.
What developments can kosher consumers expect to see in the future?
Consumers can expect to see the continued growth of food varieties and availability. The global market continues to expand, and we are poised to grow with it. It’s our task to make as many products as possible available to the kosher consumer, with continued integrity and transparency.
We are striving to expand our educational and informational outreach to both industry and consumers, utilizing all the latest tools, including www.OUKosher.org, Facebook and Twitter, among others.
Ultimately, our goal is serve Klal Yisrael, and to make the highest standards of kosher available to all.