In the last issue of Kosher Spirit, I shared part of my experiences from my recent trip to China. In this issue I will continue expounding on the trip and the fascinating kashrus insights.
On our recent trip to China, we visited facilities producing Acesulfame K and aspartame. Both of these are artificial sweeteners that are 180 to 200 times sweeter that sucrose (table sugar). Each sweetener has different properties. While aspartame has a taste closer to sugar and Acesulfame K has a slight bitter aftertaste, Acesulfame K is more heat stable, can be used in baked products and has a longer shelf life. They are often blended with other sweeteners in order to utilize the traits of all sweeteners used. The production processes for Acesulfame K and aspartame are quite complicated and there have been issues in the past with companies not giving us accurate information regarding production specifications, so I brought Rabbi Yitzchak Gornish, a Rabbinic Coordinator at the OK, who is a lamdan and has a Master’s degree in Food Science with a concentration in Chemistry. With our combined knowledge and expertise we were able to verify that the information supplied by the companies was 100% accurate.
Unfortunately companies occasionally try to avoid disclosing complete information and one must have full knowledge of food chemistry and production methods to be sure that one is given all the information necessary.
Between the two of us, we were sure that we were given accurate information. Even so, the information given to us needed some "tweaking" in order for us to get the clear picture. It took hours to carefully investigate each facility and the formulas and production methods used there,including an actual visit through the facility to see the ingredients used and watch an actual production.
When one considers that the facility staff talking to us had little knowledge of English and all of our conversations went through a translator, one can comprehend the amount of effort put into collecting the accurate information. From the answers we received, we were able to put together an accurate picture thanks to the translator who had the proper technical knowledge to properly assist us. Having the proper technical knowledge on our part was crucial in ensuring that we received an accurate picture.
We also visited a sucralose (non-caloric sweetener) plant on our first day in China. Sucralose is an artificial sweetener and the majority of ingested sucralose is not broken down by the body. Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar), twice as sweet as saccharin, and 3.3 times as sweet as aspartame. Sucralose is stable under heat and over a broad range of pH conditions. Therefore, it can be used in baking or in products that require a longer shelf life. The commercial success of sucralose-based products stems from its favorable comparison to other low-calorie sweeteners in terms of taste, stability, and safety. However, we are still investigating the ingredients of this product so we could not grant certification at this time. The facilities for this company are in three different locations, so much time was spent in travelling from one facility to the next.
We visited various facilities, some of which were quite complicated, and Reb Shaya was well versed in all aspects of these plants.
We spent Shabbos in the Chabad House in Shanghai where we had a most uplifting Shabbos. I had the honor of delivering a discourse on kashrus to a full house on Shabbos afternoon. I was invited to share Shalosh Seudos with a group of Satmar Chassidim and give over a D’var Torah. I shared talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and some interesting stories which were very well received.
I spent the next week visiting facilities with Rabbi Yeshaya Prizant, the OK rabbi who oversees kashrus supervision in China. Despite his youth, Rabbi Prizant is well versed in kashrus issues and received thorough training by able OK staff. We visited various facilities, some of which were quite complicated, and Reb Shaya was well versed in all aspects of these plants.
We visited a yeast plant, an oil plant, and a pectin plant. The yeast plant needs careful monitoring to ensure that all productions are done on the proper equipment. The yeast company was considering some new productions there which could compromise the kashrus of the equipment and we discussed at length the various methods we could employ to ensure the kashrus of our products. As usual, Rabbi Prizant was quite familiar with the entire facility.
The next facility we visited was an oleo-chemical facility that was previously certified by the OK when only kosher products were made there. At some point, the facility notified us that they decided to produce non-kosher products as well, so the OK stopped giving certification. This company now decided to reconsider kosher production, so we discussed the various procedures and possibilities for implementing kosher production. Again, Reb Shaya showed great familiarity with the facility, which was a huge facility according to any standards and quite complicated, as well. Subsequently, Rabbi Prizant made another visit to the facility and we are working intensively to sort out the potential kashrus issues there before granting certification.
Finally, we also visited a pectin facility. There I met a friend from a pectin facility in Switzerland that we certify! He is now in charge of this pectin facility in China. It is fascinating when one realizes that our work to enforce our kashrus standards in Switzerland helped us years later to uphold those standards in China! In all of the facilities we visited together, I saw that Reb Shaya is both well respected and well liked for the great work he, and all of the OK staff, is doing in China.
On the 15 hour flight home I had time to contemplate about how the experience and knowledge of the older generation is being passed on to a new generation of energetic and devoted rabbis. My father, Rabbi Berel Levy a"h, would be so proud of the
direction the OK is continuing on, combining high levels of lamdanus and yiras shomayim with technical expertise.