Originally printed Pesach 5770
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Today, kashrus stories that attract the reader are those describing a sensational bust—how the writer or his agency caught a certified company violating kashrus rules. This shows the cleverness and greatness of the writer or kashrus agency and is quite interesting to read.
However, at the OK, we know that although it is important to be able to catch any wrongdoing on the part of a certified company, we accomplish much more if we set up a system that prevents such problems and ensures that everything runs smoothly. Through years of experience and hard work, supported by a devoted and conscientious staff, the OK has invested much effort in the “ounce of prevention” theory.
Many companies produce both kosher and non-kosher products. In this situation, many hechsherim just monitor the kosher ingredients and products. By contrast, the OK has developed an extensive database system which keeps track of all the kosher and non-kosher ingredients used by each company. This system alerts us to any compatible ingredients (i.e. a kosher ingredient that has a non-kosher counterpart, or vice versa), giving us a broader understanding of any potentially problematic situations. The OK is the only kashrus agency that keeps this type of list and updates it on an ongoing basis.
The OK also has a unique formula system, which provides complete accountability and transparency for all ingredients used in our database. Each certified company must provide a formula (recipe) for every kosher certified product in its facilities. With this information, the OK can then be sure of every ingredient that enters a product, and ensure that each ingredient is compatible with the product’s kosher status (pareve, dairy, or meat). This is required of all OK-certified companies, even those with all-kosher facilities.
Two years ago, the son-in-law of a director of a major kashrus agency called me at home with a problem. It was Erev Pesach and there was a product he had thought was OK-P, but it was actually not certified for Passover. I was able to help him solve the issue within fifteen minutes thanks to our kashrus database featuring the latest computer technology.
In 2009, when the Peanut Corporation of America issued a recall of their products due to contamination, the OK was able to determine exactly which of our certified companies were using the recalled products, and in which products they were being used. (Editor’s Note: See Kosher Spirit Spring 2009, page 27.) Thus, our extensive database is crucial not only for the maintenance of a high kashrus standard, but can also play a valuable role in protecting the health and safety of kosher consumers when a recall is initiated.
The OK is working intensively on implementing another preventive measure to ensure that only approved ingredients are used in certified products— the Receiving System. Most kashrus organizations monitor ingredients by simply giving a certified company an approved list and instructing the company to only use the ingredients found on the list. If the mashgiach finds that the company has purchased an ingredient that is not on the approved list, he tells the company to remove the product. This is basically an “after the fact” system—one waits to find something wrong and then has to correct it. This could result in relying on heterim, or even a recall if the ingredient does not meet the proper kashrus standards and has already been used in kosher production. A recall can be very expensive and companies are obviously reluctant to go through this process. Even when a recall is done we cannot be 100% sure that it is complete, and no product is left anywhere on the market. Consequently we would rather expend greater effort to prevent the situation from happening in the first place.
The Receiving System developed by the OK allows us to be proactive in ensuring an additional safety step that only approved ingredients will go into certified products. Certified companies are required to implement this system. The first step in this system is for the R&D (Research and Development), Quality Control, or the ordering department to institute an internal policy that all ingredients must be approved by the OK before they are purchased. Kosher thus becomes another standard that Quality Control must check for (just like taste, color, price, etc.), and is integrated into the company system.
Once this system is in place, the purchasing department is instructed to add kosher compliance to their contract with their vendors. If an incorrect, unapproved ingredient comes in, or the ingredient arrives without the proper kosher markings, the vendor is responsible to remove and replace the ingredient. Companies obtain ingredients either in package form (bags, boxes or large containers), or in bulk shipments (in trucks, tankers, etc.). Packaged products will carry either a printed kashrus symbol on the label, a hand stamp, or sometimes a written mashgiach’s signature—as required by the agency certifying the product. Products such as oil or other liquids may come in a tanker, requiring special documentation that attests to the kosher status of the tanker.
The OK also requires that someone in the receiving area at each facility be responsible to monitor that all incoming ingredients are properly labeled, have proper kosher symbols and that all bulk transport meets the kosher requirements. Furthermore, a list of all received ingredients must be recorded either manually or electronically for the mashgiach to review during his inspection.
At one of the biggest flavor houses in the United States, which is certified kosher by the OK, two mashgichim are present in the facility every day. Due to the complexity of the company and the vast amount of ingredients required for flavor production, Rabbi Favish Moster, one of our most prominent mashgichim, has set up a special computer program that assists in monitoring the raw materials (kosher and non-kosher) that enter the facility. This company uses thousands of different ingredients to produce more than 95,000 flavors… Definitely more information than can be recorded by hand! Rabbi Moster’s system helps guarantee that mistakes will not happen.
At the OK, we much prefer to set up systems that prevent kashrus mishaps, so we can write articles about our kashrus innovations. In the Pesach season, when Jews are known to be extra careful with kashrus, it is my hope that others will take note of our methods and implement preventative measures to protect the integrity of kosher certified products and the consumers that rely on kosher symbols. May our diligence in this matter, and in all matters of Torah and mitzvos, bring about the Geulah immediately and may we celebrate our Pesach Sedarim with Moshiach in Yerushalayim.