The art of supervision is to be able to understand the pertinent halachos and the production process in order to figure out a way to make it work when problems arise without compromising the high standards of kashrus or quality.

Food production is a complex industry with a vast range of production methods and equipment. Just as a doctor specializes in a specific area of medicine, yet is taught about the entire human body and how each part relates to his specific area of practice, Rabbinic Coordinators and mashgichim need a comprehensive understanding of the kashrus and mechanics of the specific production facilities they inspect, and a working knowledge of the general food production industry. This general knowledge helps the rabbis identify areas that require special attention due to complexities or the sensitive nature of specific ingredients or production methods.

Every sector of the food industry has a set of unique behaviors and trends that are influenced by the many different aspects of the particular industry – commodity prices, competition, availability, market share, etc. Understanding the model enables the rabbi to assess the company. For example, if a company’s business model is to make the best popcorn, they will concentrate their efforts on producing only popcorn.  Repackers, however, do not actually make anything.  They receive bulk product from a production company and repackage it.  This enables the repacker to offer a greater variety to the general market.  The advantage of this setup from a kashrus perspective is that it is generally an all cold process; however, there may be an issue of compatibility in that some products look the same even though one may be pareve and the other dairy.

The art of supervision is to be able to understand the pertinent halachos and the production process in order to figure out a way to make it work when problems arise without compromising the high standards of kashrus or quality.

It is vital for a mashgiach to have a thorough understanding of the industry he is supervising.
Every facility and every industry have their potential weak points and weak links that require an extra degree of scrutiny. It is for this reason that, per Rabbi Levy’s requirement, every facility has mashgiach instructions that are meant to address the particular nature of the facility. In addition to the written instructions for the mashgichim, the OK requires a detailed customized report that mashgichim fill out after every visit.
Every facility has sensitive areas that require special attention and the key is to be able to identify these areas and to set up the safeguards to protect them. The rabbi needs to identify an area needing improvement and then identify a solution.  In the kashrus industry, we identify sensitive areas and create a plan to deal with them proactively, rather than waiting for an issue to occur. For example, companies that handle sensitive material that is difficult to obtain may be required to keep large quantities in stock so they will not run out and be tempted to seek an alternate supplier.

Another example would be vitamin and flavor companies.  These types of companies handle raw materials that can be quite costly.  One liter of material can be worth $10,000.  These expensive ingredients are not stored together with other raw materials in the general warehouse, but are usually kept in a locked cage or in the office area.  The rabbi has to be aware of these ingredients so that he knows where to find them and inspect them during his visits.

A private label company is another type of specialty company that requires special knowledge. A private labeler can be likened to an octopus – the production facility is the body and the many private label customers are the tentacles. A private labeler produces products and then labels the same product with many different brand names, with each brand being a client of the production company. A contractual agreement is required to link all of the brand names and labels to the specific factory.

Passover productions require a whole other level of special attention, in addition to the regular specialized knowledge required for different types of food production, including but not limited to the following examples. Only powder free gloves should be worn during Passover productions as the powder may cause a chometz or kitniyos concern. Processing aids, such as oils and lubricants used to move sticky product from one piece of equipment to another, require extra attention. Loaf pans are commonly sprayed with a release agent to help remove the product after baking. Release agents are even used on vessels that are only used to transfer product (like a truck). For example, when making almond paste for a Pesach production, large vessels on wheels (trucks) are used to transfer the paste from the production machine to the packing machine.  These trucks are sprayed with lubricant to help release the paste when it is transferred to the packing machine.  Obviously, the release agent needs to be kosher for Passover, even though it is not part of the actual formula because the food comes in contact with the lubricant.

In large companies, where product is bulk manufactured through automated systems, it is important to ensure that all non-Pesach equipment is completely disconnected from Pesach equipment. This can be done in several ways, including putting the non-Pesach equipment in “off” or “locked” mode and sealing it with kosher tape, or by dismantling it so that it cannot be used.

The spice industry requires extra caution because price differential may cause some to adulterate the spices with cheaper additives, and it is extra important to have a mashgiach temidi during Pesach production due to the sensitive nature of Passover ingredients.  For example, granulated garlic or garlic powder have almost the identical color as granulated soy or soy flour, thus granulated garlic needs a hechsher for Pesach because of the similarities and the temptation for adulteration due to the difference in price of the commodities.  Mustard powder and ginger powder have the same color and can be easily switched or adulterated. Paprika powder can contain small amounts of vegetable oil to help bring out its natural color. Understanding the spice industry helps the mashgiach know what to look out for in terms of kashrus ramifications.

Rework, the reusing or reprocessing of production scraps (ex. leftover dough, trimmings that can be incorporated into a new batch), is common in the food industry. Minimizing waste is one of the ways in which companies remain competitive and control costs.  A mashgiach must know about rework to help ensure that no dairy rework material gets into pareve products, or non-kosher rework into kosher products.  Of course, if it is an all pareve or all dairy facility, this concern would not apply.

Training in kashrus control lends itself to critical thinking and a sharp eye that aids in areas outside of kosher supervision. If I see something unsafe during an inspection, I’ll speak up even if is not kashrus related because I was trained to notice and think about everything I see during the course of my inspection. Nothing is coincidental; from a spiritual perspective; kashrus and physical safety are intertwined in the dictum of “ushmartem meod es nafshoseichem” (guarding one’s health, both spiritual and physical).

Outreach – Personal Stories
Everything in the physical world has a source and a counterpart in the spiritual world.  Kashrus is driven by the spiritual but has to be applied in the physical sense. We help bring out spiritual side of kashrus by helping be mekarev people and helping them connect to their neshamah.
Years ago, the OK gave a hechsher with a mashgiach temidi to a Jewish owned company that manufactured Jewish ethnic foods. The owner had an unfavorable experience in cheder as a child, and he shed his observance and ended up being a cantor in a Conservative temple. I reached out to him, not only on my annual visits, but I also went to his factory on Purim to read the megillah and part of the mashgiach instructions for this facility was for the mashgiach to put tefillin on the owner every day.  The owner developed a warm connection to Yiddishkeit and I put him in touch with a local Chabad shliach in his neighborhood to continue his growth.  I have a picture in my office of the fellow sitting in his office with tallis and tefillin.

There was a story with another Jewish owner whom we asked to put on tefillin and he refused each time. After seven years of asking, the owner was finally ready. When I asked him what changed, he told me a story about how he was trying to get a whole new line of business and at the same time a relative of his in another state lost his job.  He went to visit his relative to reassure him that all would work out for the best, and while he was there, he got the new business and actually needed a distributor in the state where his relative lives and was able to give his relative a job.  He told me that he realized all of this was clearly orchestrated from Above and that G-d made this happen, so he was now ready to put on tefillin.

In one of our large stores, an older woman once came to our mashgiach crying tears of joy because she never believed that she would be able to go shopping in a national store and buy kosher products.  It was a very emotionally charged moment and a clear sign of hashgocha pratis.
There is an explanation from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, ztz”l, on the words “l’saper yetzias Mitzrayim”. Sipur means to relate the story, but it also means sefer – to learn about it and live it, and it can also mean sapir – to shine. The same can be said about kashrus – first we give the instructions and what the industry is all about, then our staff of mashgichim study and live it, and then they shine by fulfilling their shlichus. Kashrus achileh and shtiah (eating and drinking)– enables the body and soul to function harmoniously together because they can only shine when the body gets kosher food.  The whole idea of Yetzias Mitzrayim is freedom from limitations.  Kosher food frees us spiritually, especially with our high standards of kashrus, and this refines us and enables our neshamah to freely express itself through the body.  In this way we become spiritually free and it enables us to live a healthy life spiritually and physically and fulfill the purpose of our soul’s descent into this earth and help to bring the Geulah.