Kosher 101: What are the Kosher Groups?

posted by June 2013

Kosher groups are a way of classifying different types of kosher ingredients.

A Group 1 ingredient does not require a kosher certificate or kosher symbol.

A Group 2 ingredient requires a kosher certificate, but no kosher symbol printed on the package.

A Group 3 ingredient requires a kosher certificate and a kosher symbol printed on the package.

A Group 4 ingredient is bulk packaged and only approved from a specific source.

A Group 5 ingredient is bulk packaged and only approved from a specific source when accompanied by a special letter.

Group 6 and 7 ingredients are not approved for use in kosher products, and Group 7 ingredients are not allowed in a kosher certified facility.

Kosher 101: What is a Kosher Formula?

posted by December 2012

A (kosher) formula is the recipe for a specific product certified by the OK. Each ingredient is listed, along with its kosher certificate, and the method of production is noted. We do not require the amounts of each ingredient used and the information is kept strictly confidential. When a product formula changes, it is crucial to submit the new formula so that it can be entered into the OK kosher management system.

Formulas can now be submitted through our paperless program and are subsequently evaluated by the Formula Department and supervising rabbi.

Kosher 101: Kosher Equipment

posted by April 2012

In addition to the requirement that all ingredients (including anti-foam and other production aids) used to make a kosher product must be certified kosher, the equipment used to produce the product must meet kosher requirements as well. As previously discussed, meat and dairy products cannot be mixed or produced on the same equipment. In addition, if a product will be pareve (neutral), it cannot be produced on dairy or meat equipment.

In order to make used equipment suitable for kosher production, or to change a production line from meat or dairy to pareve, a special process, called kosherizing, must take place. Kosherizing is done by the rabbi assigned to your facility and involves a process of cleaning and purging the equipment of its non-kosher status. After all equipment is left idle for 24 hours, it is meticulously cleaned by facility staff and inspected for cleanliness by the rabbi. Then, depending on the type of equipment, the rabbi oversees the actual kosherization. There are a few methods, which vary based on the equipment, and include boiling, use of steam, and purging through direct contact with fire.

Once this process is complete, the production equipment becomes kosher according to Jewish law. Kosherization is also required to produce Passover products in a facility that was used to produce other products during the year.

As Passover Nears, These Rabbis Are Getting Out Their Blowtorches

posted by May 2011

*The OK was recently featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. We are told that Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, Director of Marketing & Eduction and Editor-in-Chief of Kosher Spirit, is only the second orthodox rabbi to ever grace the cover of this prestigious paper.

Working 24/6 to Get the Leavened Bread Out of the Kosher Kitchen; What Isn’t OK

By Lucette Lagnado

Rabbi Naftali Marrus kosherizes a restaurant kitchen for Passover.
When Rabbi Naftali Marrus does his spring cleaning, he doesn’t use a mop. He rolls with the Inferno.

The Inferno is a three-and-a-half-foot-long propane torch Rabbi Marrus uses during the critical days before Passover to scour commercial kitchens catering to observant Jews and obliterate the smallest particles of bread and other leavened foods, which are forbidden during the holiday that commemorates the Jews’ flight from Egypt.

Marching into the kitchen of My Most Favorite Food, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Rabbi Marrus runs his finger along stove tops, pokes his head inside the big industrial ovens, examines the coffee maker and inspects walls and floors. They have been soaked in boiling water and scrubbed clean with soap, detergents, degreasers and ammonia.

No matter. With the restaurant’s owners, Doris Schechter and her son-in-law Scott Magram looking on, Rabbi Marrus directs the flames of the Inferno up and down racks of steel rolling trays and deep inside the oven. His assistant will apply the Inferno to the pots and pans. Ms. Schechter takes the drastic cleaning in stride. “To me it is a renewal, you start over again.”

Rabbi Marrus, 6-feet-3-inches tall and built like a football player, handles the Inferno with care. “You have to be respectful to the blowtorch,” he says.

Passover, which starts Monday at sundown and lasts eight days, is the busy season for Rabbi Marrus. As a supervising rabbi for OK Kosher Certification, an agency in Brooklyn, N.Y., he and his colleagues are working 24/6—they don’t work on the Sabbath—to ensure that all restaurants, caterers, cafés, industrial kitchens and food manufacturers that want the OK Kosher for Passover label follow strict Jewish food laws.

But keeping kosher isn’t just for Passover, and it isn’t just for traditional Jewish food. OK gives its kosher blessing to items as varied as Perrier water and Tropicana orange juice.

Getting the kosher seal is a rigorous experience that requires OK’s 300-odd part-time rabbis to travel around inspecting plants where food is produced. They study every ingredient that goes into a product to make sure it conforms with religious law. Only then will they allow it to carry their trademark “K” with a circle around it.

“We like to say God is our silent partner,” remarks Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, an OK veteran.

OK Kosher started in about 1935 as a mom-and-pop shop called Organized Kashrut Laboratories. It’s now a multinational player, with rabbis in China, Japan, India, Belgium and Israel who certify nearly 500,000 products from about 3,000 companies. Its headquarters are still in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It operates as a nonprofit. Clients pay from $2,000 to tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Kosher dietary laws date back to biblical times. Several basic laws come with hundreds, even thousands of regulations or interpretations. Eating pork and shellfish, for example, is banned, while mixing meat and milk is also taboo. There are also intricate rules on how an animal must be slaughtered to produce kosher meat.

Establishments that serve kosher food, including restaurants, cafés, catering halls and butcher shops, need to have a mashgiach on hand, an on-site supervisor, typically a rabbi, assigned to stand around and watch, guarding against treif or unkosher ingredients that could slip in.

The U.S. kosher market is valued at about $12.5 billion. “The iconic brands of America are overwhelmingly kosher,” says Menachem Lubinsky, President of Lubicom Marketing Consulting. Familiar brands such as Coca-Cola, Snapple, Philadelphia cream cheese, Coors beer and Tootsie Rolls all have products with a kosher label.

“It is astounding when you figure that Jews are less than 2% of the population,” says Sue Fishkoff, author of the book “Kosher Nation.” Many non-Jews believe a kosher product is healthier and safer, she says. “Is it? Possibly the Kosher beef is. But certainly not the cereal or the aluminum foil.”

These days, more than 1,000 agencies world-wide vie with one another to bestow on products an alphabet soup of kosher insignia. These include the ubiquitous k with a circle around it favored by OK; there’s the OU—a U inside a circle—sign used by the Orthodox Union; while the Rabbinical Council of Chicago is known for its cRc in a triangle stamp.

“There is healthy competition, but we do work for a higher cause,” says Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of Chicago’s rabbinic agency. “We try to promote kosher.”

There are occasional disagreements, and what is kosher to some rabbis may not be to others. Ms. Fishkoff, for instance, recalls how the granddaddy of kosher products—the iconic Hebrew National Kosher Hot Dog—for years wasn’t considered sufficiently kosher by some of the key certifying agencies. These days, armed with a kosher seal from Triangle K, a Brooklyn agency, the hot dog has been embraced by Conservative Jews who observe kosher dietary laws.

Some Orthodox agencies such as OK and the Chicago Rabbinical Council still reject it. “It is much better than it used to be,” says Rabbi Fishbane, but “it is not certified glatt,” he says, referring to an even higher standard of kosher meat certification.

For Hebrew National to be certified as glatt, Rabbi Fogelman says, it would have to use only glatt kosher meat. Glatt certification, he explains, involves checking a cow after slaughter to see how healthy it was—specifically if it had lesions on its lungs. If it had too many lesions, then it won’t pass muster as glatt, he says.

Hebrew National, owned by ConAgra Foods, says on its website that its certification by Triangle K comes from an orthodox Jewish agency made up of “the most stringent Jews” that provide rabbinical supervision and make sure its products and ingredients meet the “strictest criteria” for kosher. ConAgra’s spokesman says it has no plans to pursue the glatt market.

Then there’s the question of how far to push the kosher brand. Rabbi Fogelman of OK says his agency has been asked to certify paper bags as kosher; OK is working on it. OK certifies a dog treat as kosher. Exclusively Pet Inc., in Milwaukee, manufactures dog cookies that carry the little K seal.

These days Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. near Chicago sells dog and cat food that, in a manner of speaking, is kosher. They are deemed usable during the Passover holiday, though not kosher for human consumption, and have the endorsement of the venerable Chicago Rabbinical Council. Evanger’s website touts its products by showing a photo of a dog wearing a yarmulke.

They are a godsend to Terry Socol of Skokie, Ill. His two cats, Ashley and Coco, don’t like Passover because of the limited diet. He called Evanger’s and obtained cans of whole mackerel and beef tips with gravy. But he also bought them lox—certified kosher for humans: “Passover is such a hard holiday for them.”

*Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2011.

Kosher 101: What is a kosher ingredient?

posted by January 2011

A kosher ingredient is one that is certified by a reputable kosher certification agency and approved for use by the OK.

Application for:

  • Receiving: The receiving department must check all incoming ingredients for kosher products to ensure that they are on the approved ingredient list and conform to the specifications on the kosher certificate (i.e. kosher symbol on package, bulk certificate, lot number, etc.).

  • Production: Only approved kosher ingredients with the correct designation (meat, dairy, pareve, or Passover) can be used in the production of kosher products.

Kosher 101: What is Kosher Meat?

posted by June 2010

A kosher meat product must be derived from a permissible animal that has both split hooves and chews its cud. Kosher animals are cows, sheep, goats, venison, chickens, turkeys, duck and geese. In addition, the meat must be slaughtered by a shochet (a ritual slaughterer) and kosherized through a special process (like salting to get rid of any traces of blood and deveining certain parts). Any products containing meat ingredients or meat derivatives are considered “meat” for kosher purposes. In addition, no dairy products or derivatives can be produced on a meat production line.

Application for:

  • Receiving: A facility that handles only kosher meat finished products, can have both pareve and meat ingredients listed on their approved ingredient list and both types of ingredients may be received in the facility.

  • Production: A kosher meat product is produced on a production line specially dedicated for kosher meat products, or properly kosherized before production. Meat products can also be produced on a pareve line, but it would change the status of the pareve line and require kosherization before another pareve product is made. Most of the time, a rabbi must be present during the production of meat products.
  • Procurement: Since there are such stringent restrictions on kosher meat, most meat, products and meat derivatives on the market are not kosher.  If you require meat products, it is imperative to work closely with your rabbi and/or Account Representative at the OK to qualify a suitable source.

  • Sales: Meat products are labeled with an “OK-M” symbol and may have the word glatt next to the symbol. Since meat products are complicated to certify, two logos (or seals) must be present on all sealed finished products. Sometimes, special tamper-proof seals, like holograms and tracking information, are used. Speak to your rabbi or Account Representative to discuss this in detail.

What Does Pareve Mean?

posted by January 2010

A pareve (neutral) product is made from inherently kosher or kosher certified ingredients that are neither meat, nor dairy. Some examples of pareve ingredients are raw fruits & vegetables, flour, sugar, kosher fish, and eggs.

A pareve (neutral) product is made from inherently kosher or kosher certified ingredients that are neither meat, nor dairy. Some examples of pareve ingredients are raw fruits & vegetables, flour, sugar, kosher fish, and eggs. (more…)

The oldest diet is the latest trend…

posted by September 2009

Every few years, nutritional discoveries provide the food industry with hot new trends – propelling sales and building brands positioned to capitalize. The latest? “Kosher,” reports an industry analyst, is “becoming the ‘new organic’ certification for consumers.” The hottest new trend … is in fact the oldest continuously -practiced dietary tradition. For over 3000 years, the kosher laws have provided a complete dietary standard – tested and proven, with the divine “seal of approval” trusted literally worldwide.

What Makes it Kosher?

“Kosher” – from the Hebrew kasher (“fit”, “prepared”) – has entered common parlance to describe anything done right, whether in business, politics or simple decency. This derives from its strict meaning in Talmudic tradition: in ritual and civil law, something “kosher” is correctly prepared, proper in every detail.

For over three millennia, however, “kosher” has been so identified with dietary laws that it is instantly recognized as a type of food preparation. What makes it “kosher”?

Contrary to classic misconception, it is not a rabbi’s blessing that grants kosher status; the kosher supervisor ensures that products conform to a clearly-defined code concerned with a) which foods are permitted; b) how food is prepared; and c) which foods may be cooked or eaten together.

From animal slaughter to vegetable preparation, kosher demands strict standards of ethics and purity; every ingredient matters. Biblical law requires separation of meat and milk, creating three categories – meat, dairy and “pareve” (“neutral”) – making kosher certification ideal to an ever-widening consumer base.

What draws consumers to kosher?

One study asserts, “With more than ten million kosher consumers in the US, the Jewish population is a very low percentage of this number … indicating that kosher has ‘converted’ into a generic product.”

Kosher has long been a niche market. But a new multi-cultural appeal gives it explosive marketing potential. While the fast-growing observant Jewish community demands more (and varied) kosher products, diverse consumers adopt kosher certification to meet their own specific needs.

For the expanding Muslim market, kosher symbols on meat and other products satisfy its Halal standards. Vegetarians are assured that kosher “dairy” or “pareve” products contain no meat. The lactose-intolerant can be sure that “pareve” foods contain no dairy. And health-conscious consumers choose kosher for perceived quality.

With the US market leading, kosher is an international phenomenon. Long a standard in Europe, well-known kosher symbols now guarantee mainstream consumers of quality products in emerging markets from Brazil to South Africa.

Kosher certification is today’s best marketing move – as the NY Times says, the “shrewd way … to gain market share for a minimal investment.”