Layer By Layer: Behind the Scenes of Cabbage Inspection, Part 2

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In the first installment (Chanukah 5782) we discussed the basic halachic guidelines regarding insects in produce. In this installment we will take a look at how the OK inspects a cabbage farm.

OK Kosher certifies a company that uses cabbage during its production. The farmer knows that in order for the OK to accept his cabbage he must be vigilant in protecting his crop. The farmer checks on his cabbage daily and he also hires a professional scout to look out for the beginnings of infestation. There are times that the scout injects various chemicals in order to repel insects. In addition, there are oils and soaps, as well as herbs and plants, which can repel insects without the use of poison. Even with all of these precautions, the OK sends me to inspect the cabbage at various points throughout the growing, harvesting and storage process, to ensure the cabbage is clean and free from insects.

During our first visit to the farm, the OK Tolaim Committee, along with an expert posek who specializes in bedikas tolaim, established a protocol for properly spot-checking the cabbage fields for insects. Based on the requirements set forth in Part 1, we want to establish that this particular field falls under the rule of “Miyut She-Ainoi Motzoi” – that it is extremely rare to find insects in this particular field. Once the protocol has been established, it is the field mashgiach’s job to choose random heads of cabbage and to check them in a makeshift lab. At the lab, the heads are cut into quarters, each leaf is separated and soaked in a soap solution, and then each leaf is thoroughly rinsed and the water is checked for insects by filtering it through a mesh cloth.

In this case, I use magnifying tools when I inspect the mesh cloth to be sure that there isn’t even the beginnings of insect infestation. Therefore, I am sure to check each speck thoroughly.

Cabbage planted for retail sale are usually smaller and grow rather quickly. Cabbage planted for commercial usage are usually larger, heavier, and their leaves are packed more tightly. This is especially true for the winter varieties with very tightly packed leaves that are able to store well at appropriate temperatures in order to be optimal for use during the winter. Winter varieties can take four months or longer to grow, while the other varieties take around 10 weeks to grow.

Generally there are three types of insects that can be found in cabbage: diamondback moths, thrips, and aphids. The moths generally come at the beginning of the season. You can recognize moth damage when you find parts of the cabbage eaten. Pesticides can be applied at the beginning of the season, in order to kill the larvae. Some farmers have developed a system where the pesticide is injected into the ground during their tilling and planting, in order to be more effective.

Natural ways of protecting the crop are rotating (regularly changing the type of produce planted on each field) the crops, being vigilant to find and remove any leaves that have larvae on them, as well as tilling the ground. Some insects are attracted to weeds or cover crops. Tilling breaks up the soil and destroys the weeds and buries the insects and their eggs. Most farmers use pesticides and field management methods, as well as natural predators and repellents (like peppermint, dill or other plants that repel moths from laying eggs), to control insect infestation. Organic farms that do not use pesticides will require more tilling and the usage of natural predators and repellents.

OK Kosher will only permit the use of cabbage from growers who are vigilant in their daily inspections of the cabbage fields and regularly control the insect population.

The particular company referenced in this article has sourced cabbage from multiple farms. The current farmer is very vigilant and produces very clean cabbage; even so, during my last visit I inspected one field where I noticed some tiny brown spots on one of the cabbage leaves. These usually come from thrips. It was decided that this field would not be eligible to be used for kosher production and I selected a different field that did not show signs of infestation for the kosher production.

As the saying goes, at OK Kosher we strive to provide kosher without compromise. May Hashem continue to give us the siyata dishmaya to achieve our goals.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please feel free to send your comments and questions to [email protected].