A Look at Kashrus & Sweets

The following article has been selected by me for I believe it gives a
fair insight to the complexities of the kosher industry. I often look
at an item as ask myself “what can be wrong”. I used to believe candy
is made of sugar, perhaps corn syrup and coloring. Doesn’t get much
more basic so why the concern? Read on and see. 

I recently visited a dried fruit and nut store in the Geula section of
Yerushalayim, where I learned that the raisins he received were being
returned because a tracking label was missing. This did not satisfy
the stringent requirements of the Eida Chareidit supervision. The
store owner explained to me that this is the way it goes. I asked what
were his concerns since the box clearly stated “from the USA, 100%
pure California raisins”. He explained that they are coated with oil
to give them a shine and prevent sticking to one another – and the
tracking label tells the mashgiach if it is the oil that has been
approved or perhaps a non-kosher oil. That is a plain “100% pure”
raisin so it is time for us to realize that what appears ‘simply
kosher’ may not be.

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The following is a synopsis of an article appearing in the weekly
chareidi newspaper HaShavua, written in Hebrew by Chaim Friedman.

For most of us, our interaction with candies is a simple one, a quick
gaze at the wrapper in search of an acceptable hechsher (kosher
certification symbol). In actuality, many if not most of us make the
assumption that a hard candy for example contains mostly sugar,
perhaps some flavoring and color, and that’s it, simple. In actuality,
such a sweet treat can contain close to 100 ingredients.

Today, no one can claim to be an expert regarding the hundreds of
thousands of ingredients used in the global food industry, which is
composed of food chemists, engineers, manufacturers, and knowledge of
a number of languages and rabbinical experts who are familiar with the
various methods of food manufacture.

One of the world-renowned experts in the food kashrut industry,
particularly pertaining to candies is Dayan Osher Yaakov Westheim of
Manchester, of the Manchester Beis Din supervision. He was the ‘right
hand’ of HaGaon Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss of blessed memory some 30
years ago. He was appointed as his successor and today, his
supervision is respected worldwide. Rav Westheim is close to a number
of the generation’s leading Torah scholars, including Rav Wosner
Shlita. He oversees the largest supervision in Europe for the schita
(ritual slaughter) of animals and he is relied upon by many stringent
communities throughout Europe.

His main occupation today involves the world of kashrut, and rabbis
from around the world regularly consult with him, taking advantage of
his broad knowledge base. Rav Westheim is known for his surprise
inspections, dropping in on his mashgichim around the world without
prior notice, in any weather conditions, wishing to obtain a true
understanding of their dedication and expertise.

Rabbi Aharon Haskel, rabbinical coordinator of the OK Kosher
Certification in Israel explains that Rabbi Moshe Weinstein, a noted
kashrut expert, coordinates activities in the area of certification
for sweets between the OK and the Manchester Badatz. “If you awaken
Rav Westheim from his sleep, he will be able to recite every
ingredient from every product in every factory he supervises around
the world,” explains Haskel. “He is truly amazing, a chemist of the
highest order, a mechanical engineer and possesses a profound
understanding of all aspects of the process”.  Towards maintaining
control over production, Rav Westheim also speaks a number of
languages, including German, French and English.

What is described as truly unique is Rav Westheim’s comprehensive
knowledge. Some rabbis understand the halacha in its finest detail
while others are expert in the manufacture process. According to Rav
Haskel, Dayan Westheim is the embodiment of all aspects of the
manufacturing and halachic processes, adding the rabbi would forgo
doing business with any major factory rather than risk compromising
his kosher standard. “The rabbi insists on personally conducting
inspections in factories under his supervision since he feels he will
catch things others may miss” adds Rabbi Haskel.

Rabbi Westheim does not believe a non-Jew should be trusted in matters
of kashrut, and as such, demands his mashgichim be present for the
manufacture process and the packaging, from beginning to end. His
staff explains that once, he appeared at a factory in Poland in the
middle of the night and began questioning the mashgiach as to the
makeup of the substance traveling through the factory’s 800 meters of
tubing at the time of his arrival. They explain he demands total and
comprehensive understanding of the process, without any room for doubt
or the unknown.

They describe a candy which came with a coating, a type of shellac
which gave the hard candy a desirable shine. The coating, which is
derived from insects, is external, and as Rav Westheim explains, the
first to come into contact with one’s tongue.

Rav Westheim explains one of the problems is many factories may have
products in an adjacent manufacturing process containing non-kosher
ingredients, or a problematic cleaning process, heating and more, and
a mashgiach must know the route of all the tubing of the processing
and the contents of all tubing at all times. The steaming of lines is
a process posing questions, especially when agents are not used that
might render residue in the lines ‘unfit’ (pagum), adding some
factories design the entire steaming and cleansing process in
accordance to his kashrut demands to avoid complications in the
process.

Rav Westheim quotes the late Satmar Rebbe, who before WWII stated that
regarding matters of kosher, one must have the trust which can only be
achieved by maintaining a level of expertise and being above board,
total transparency and a willingness and ability to respond to any and
all questions, as the dayan explains is the case with his operation.
He explains nothing less can be acceptable if one truly wishes to earn
the publics’ trust.

That said, this is not sufficient since factories to not manufacture
raw ingredients, but they buy them. A mashgiach manning his post is
not enough. True supervision of an item begins long before the
manufacturing process.

The raw ingredients are manufactured around the world, in some remote
places. This would include food colorings, stabilizers, emulsifiers
and taste extracts for example.

The OK supervision maintains a relationship with factories around the
world, providing services for kosher supervising agencies in Israel
and around the world.

As a major player in the kashrus industry, the OK provides supervision
for many many factories which manufacture ingredients that make up
many of the food items we buy in stores. Rabbinical agents of the OK
are found in hundreds of factories around the world.

The job is a complex one, monitoring the supervision of hundreds of
ingredients. And what happens if the supervision of one ingredient
expires for example – a mashgiach cannot always track down the path of
a specific ingredient, not even a seasoned expert. OK officials
explain that is just why their comprehensive database of 4 million
items was established. Rav Haskel carries a device similar to a pager,
which demands a code entry, providing access to production secrets to
many items on store shelves. It contains data pertaining to all kosher
candy manufacturers around the world, and the factories that produce
the ingredients that go into them. His little computerized device can
call up any ingredient, its identification number, location of
manufacture, name of the rabbi responsible for its supervision, dates
of visits to the production site, status regarding Pesach (Passover),
if it is dairy, meat or parve, expiration date of the product’s
certificate of supervision and more.

They explain that supervision demands “total control” over a product
down to the minutest ingredient in the product makeup. To give an
example, he scans the product barcode of a candy on the table in front
of us. It immediately displays the ingredients and begins offering an
endless stream of information. Most information is displayed, but not
the company name and some other classified information pertaining to
the ingredients’ manufacturer as per an agreement of confidentiality,
which demands a code before permitting the viewer to benefit from the
additional details.

Rav Haskel gives another example from a true incident pertaining to a
shipment of dried parsley from a kosher supervising agency in Israel
that was mistakenly sent abroad. A kosher supervising agency contacted
the OK to trace the ingredients. We were able to tract it down to the
minutest ingredient by entering the product’s identification number in
the database. We quickly learned that 620 products handled by 252
different companies contain the dried parsley from Israel. That very
same day, all of the companies received a kashrut alert regarding the
mistaken shipment of ‘heter mechira’ parsley. That is just one aspect
of the OK’s comprehensive computerized database.

The database will also send a computerized alert to a company prior to
an ingredient’s supervision expiring. If the ingredient is not renewed
and the supervision does expire, the item is flagged by the system and
notification is sent to companies using the particular ingredient,
informing them it no longer enjoys kosher supervision.

Another example would include a parve product in which the mashgiach
does not realize one of the ingredients is dairy. The system will flag
it and prohibit him from moving forward, informing the mashgiach of
the error. The database is relied upon by kashrus agencies worldwide,
containing 4 million entries.

Rav Haskel stresses however that the computerized abilities in no way
replace a zealous competent mashgiach, who must remain at the
forefront of the operation and manufacture of any food product.

Rav Haskel speaks of the Arkor conglomerate of companies in Argentina
and Brazil, one of the largest manufacturers of candies, overseeing 40
factories and 35,000 employees. It is represented in Israel by S.
Butovsky. In recent years, they have decided to adopt the kosher line,
manufacturing almost every type of candy in the world. At the start,
they agreed to kasher (process of making the operation kosher) eight
plants. They halt all operations for 24 hours to render a plant
kosher. Stopping operations is a major undertaking when one realizes
each factory produces enough for 10 containers daily.

What can be wrong we ask ourselves? Well Rav Haskel gives another
example, this time from a large bakery in Israel. One of the
mashgichim explains he saw a mousse cake that was three months past
its expiration date, yet it was true to its form, standing at
attention, which he explains it should not have been. When he asked if
gelatin was used, the bakers stated absolutely not, at which time Rav
Haskel immediately canceled the kashrut certification. Only then did
an Arab baker admit to bringing gelatin from Gaza, which he put into
the cake even though it was not listed on the ingredients. Rav Haskel
explains he knew immediately it had to contain gelatin to permit the
mousse cake to maintain its integrity for such a long period of time.

Rav Haskel states the stories unfortunately are endless, stating
during an inspection of a factory in Eastern Europe, he saw hundreds
of empty packets of an unauthorized fat product in a trash receptacle,
immediately alarming him that it may have been introduced into the
production line. It was learned the ingredient was not listed because
the packers only used it to lubricate while packaging, including
candies which received a swift wipe of the finger with the non-kosher
product.

During an encounter which occurred in a Danish factory producing
cookies, it became apparent the dough used in a different cookie was
dairy, containing butter. It demanded a more rigorous kashering of the
assembly line since it was now coated with a oily film from the
butter. Despite numerous attempts to clean the machines, which to the
eye appeared ready to produce the kosher run, Rav Westheim did not
approve it and the manufacture of the kosher cookies did not take
place.

Oils and fats are most difficult, especially when they exceed 50C
(122F) (Yad Soledet Bo), demanding a more rigorous koshering process.
Even with cold storage there are concerns pertaining to absorption and
‘pickling’.

Don’t think that food colors, even “natural food colorings” are no big
deal. One only has to address E120 for example, Carmine, which is
derived from an insect. The insects are dried and ground, providing an
excellent red coloring, a ‘natural food coloring’ which is quite
treif. Its kosher substitute is not ‘natural’ and many good Jewish
shoppers prefer the natural choice. (The red coloring derived from
insects is commonly used in non-kosher candies).

Even its substitute comes from grape peels and the source of the
grapes also demands kashrut supervision. Often, it is derived from
forbidden wines.

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