From the Desk of Don Yoel Levy – Chanukah 5776

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Food production has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past century. Commercial production is much more than mixing basic ingredients together to create a product. Just like food coloring is added to many products to add or enhance the color, today most commercial food products rely on manufactured flavors, both “natural” and “artificial” to make the product taste great. Whether the flavor is completely synthetic, or has natural components, the production is a complex process.

On a recent trip to Europe I visited a flavor factory to see if it met our kosher standards. Flavor producers are one of the more versatile types of producers in the food industry. A standard factory will usually focus on one type of production; for example, a bakery will usually have baking equipment, a candy factory will have candy producing equipment, a chocolate producer will have chocolate equipment, etc. On the other hand, a flavor facility can have multi-faceted types of production areas requiring different expertise. Flavor companies also have thousands of ingredients and can produce tens of thousands of different formulae.

Types of Production
Flavors are produced in a variety of different ways. There is cold production and hot production. Cold and hot production is further divided between liquid production and dry production. To add to the complexity, a typical flavor house usually utilizes multiple different types of production in the same facility!

Cold Liquid Production:
In a liquid production, the mashgiach is focused on making sure both the ingredients and equipment are kosher. If a non-kosher production is done before the kosher production and the method is only cold production, all that is needed is a thorough cleaning to make sure that the equipment is not contaminated with actual non- kosher ingredients.

If the non-kosher ingredients used were cold, but held in the equipment for 24 hours or more, then according to Halacha the ingredient is considered absorbed into the equipment and the equipment must be koshered in the event that the kosher product will remain in the equipment for 24 hours, or will be produced with heat. This is because the equipment will have absorbed the non-kosher or dairy taste and the machinery will contaminate the kosher product.

In the case of a very strong, sharp tasting non-kosher ingredient (for example, a wine-based, strong non-kosher alcohol) the ingredient can be considered absorbed in a much shorter period of time and would also need koshering.

Without going into great detail, koshering would generally consist of cleaning the equipment, having it sit idle for 24 hours, and then filling it with water and bringing that water to a rolling boil, following with a cold rinse.

In a flavor house, they are constantly producing different flavors with different ingredients so the mashgiach checking the kashrus of this equipment has to have access to what is being produced on this equipment in order to be able to know when non-kosher products have been in the equipment for over 24 hours. This means that he must have access to the company’s records, which usually means computer records in today’s high-tech world.

If the mashgiach doesn’t have access, then he will have to kasher the equipment before producing any products that will remain on the equipment for more than 24 hours (even if it’s a cold process) or any production involving heat.

Cold Dry Blending
Another facet of cold production is dry blending. This involves powders that are mixed together in blenders. The kosher concerns in dry blending are that the previous product could be non-kosher, or could be dairy. If non-kosher was produced first and then one wants to produce kosher, then of course the equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and cleaning powder out of all the pipes and crevices can be quite challenging. In addition, if one wants to produce pareve, then one must ensure that that the equipment has been thoroughly cleaned from the dairy product prior to use.

Here again, we must have access to the company’s records in order to know the sequence of production. This will usually require the mashgiach to be computer savvy, so that he will be thoroughly familiar with the company’s records and data management system.

This is only a short synopsis of the cold production to give you some insight into what is required of the mashgiach in the cold department of the flavor company.

Hot Production:
According to Halacha, if non-kosher is produced hot on the equipment, the equipment is considered non-kosher. Anything subsequently produced on this equipment is considered non-kosher. Even if all the ingredients are kosher, if dairy is produced via hot methods, the piece of equipment now obtains a dairy status and anything produced on this equipment is considered dairy. In “hot” equipment we have many different types of equipment presenting us with different challenges. Whereas originally “cooking” involved only simple pots or ovens, today we have many different ways of producing “hot” products.

We still have the standard way of cooking items in a pot. However, whereas our ancestors put a pot on a fire and cooked, today the fire is not usually in the production area. The fire is in a huge boiler that produces steam that is piped to an enclosed jacket surrounding the pot and this steam heats up the pot.

Kosherizing this pot is usually quite easy with a thorough cleaning, down time of 24 hours and then filling to the top and bringing to a rolling boil. However, according to Halacha, when two liquids share a common (metal) wall they are considered connected. Therefore the steam that was heating the non-kosher product becomes non-kosher and must be addressed before we can even think of koshering. The halachos and procedures involving non-kosher steam is an entire article unto itself and cannot be further addressed here.

Other types of heating equipment include pasteurizers, heat exchangers or similar types of equipment. These are closed systems that heat the products, which does not allow us to actually see the water boiling during koshering. The solution here is to know the altitude at the facility and at what temperature water boils at this altitude (the higher the altitude, the lower the temperature required to reach boiling). For example, at sea level water will boil at 212ᵒ Fahrenheit or 100ᵒ Celsius. In Denver, Colorado, the mile high city, water will boil at 203ᵒ Fahrenheit or 95ᵒ Celsius. Then the mashgiach checks the temperature to ensure it reaches that boiling point via a thermometer, which is usually built in to the piece of equipment.

Maillard Reaction Production
Another type of flavor production is what we call Maillard reaction production. To quote from Wikipedia:
The Maillard reaction (/maɪˈjɑr/ my-yar; French pronunciation: ​[majaʁ]) is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food their desirable flavor. For example, seared steaks, pan-fried dumplings, cookies, breads, toasted marshmallows, and many other foods undergo this reaction. It is named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.

The reaction is a form of non-enzymatic browning which typically proceeds rapidly from around 140 to 165 °C (284 to 329 °F). At higher temperatures, caramelization and subsequently pyrolysis become more pronounced. The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors. This process is accelerated in an alkaline environment (e.g., lye applied to darken pretzels), as the amino groups (RNH3+) are deprotonated and, hence, have an increased nucleophilicity. The type of the amino acid determines the resulting flavor. This reaction is the basis of the flavoring industry.

Koshering from a Maillard reaction also requires bringing water in the equipment to a rolling boil, as described above.

The Drying Method
Another more complicated type of production used in flavors and in other types of production is the drying of liquids until they turn into powder form. This is usually done by what is commonly known as a spray dryer tower, which is a huge inverted cone that has the product coming in from the top through an atomizer in either hot or cold form. The liquid spray is confronted by a blast of super-heated hot air and falls to the bottom in a powder form. This piece of equipment is quite complicated to kasher if first used for non-kosher ingredients (or dairy ingredients when pareve is needed) and the methods cannot be discussed within the limits of this article.

Another type of dryer is what we call a vacuum dryer, which creates a vacuum to decrease the air pressure and force the water to evaporate at a lower temperature (similar to water boiling at a lower temperature at higher altitude where there is less air, as described above). This can be done in one stage or several stages. The advantage of this method is that the product will not “burn” at the lower temperature and its taste will not change due to the drying process. A product dried through the vacuum method can be done without any heat, eliminating the need for koshering. However, where heat is used, the equipment must be koshered through boiling, as previously mentioned.

The above methods are just a brief glance at the complex production methods and equipment used at a flavor facility. These concerns are in addition to the many thousands of ingredients that are used in a flavor house. The ingredients alone require special monitoring using an advanced computer system.

The OK also has a full time staff in our main office monitoring the tens of thousands of products that these companies produce. First and foremost, these employees determine, via a complex data system AND rabbinic review, whether the formula is kosher. If it is a kosher formula, then the product is classified as pareve or dairy and a rabbi determines whether the production equipment requires koshering before production of this particular product.

The OK has many flavor houses where we have full time mashgichim monitoring the systems there, in addition to the full time employees in our office. We have special systems set up to monitor the receiving of all ingredients (in all certified companies) to ensure that only acceptable ingredients make it into the approved areas in the companies, as well as many checks and balances and individual procedures tailored to the unique realities in each facility. This multi-faceted and custom designed approach makes every product certified by OK Kosher Certification “kosher without compromise”.