Kashrut at Catering Halls and Affairs – The Reality

The following article is a translation from the original Hebrew, which appears on the Kosharot Website.

This is being published with permission from Kosharot’s Rav/Posek, Rabbi Moshe Katz.

21 Cheshvan 5773

Approximately ten years ago, the Kosharot Organization opened its Supervision Department, whose purpose is to aid in the kashrut supervision at various smachot (weddings, britot, etc.)
The department provides advice and guidance for hundreds of families each year. When necessary, it helps solve problems by sending a Kosharot-certified mashgiach (supervisor) whose job is to accompany the event from the stage of the preparations (beginning with the purchase of the raw ingredients), through the cooking, to the serving of the dessert.
The food services industry (in particular, catering halls, catering services, and public eateries) has developed greatly over the last few years. In this article, we will try to raise a number of issues concerning kashrut in catering halls that require attention.
1. “All the meat is glatt (chalak) and the vegetables are Gush Katif”
Being meticulous concerning the kashrut of food items, we might decide to approach the mashgiach at an affair or a hall to try to ascertain the level of kashrut. Often, we will be answered with the well-known catch-phrase: “All the meat is glatt (chalak) and all the vegetables are Gush Katif.” As we will see, this laconic reply is not sufficient for one who really wants to determine the true level of kashrut in the kitchen, since, for example, when the chef is not Jewish, the kashrut of the meat has no effect on the overall kashrut of the food. “Gush Katif” is merely a code name for dozens of companies, including some imposters. In addition, experience has unfortunately shown us that in many instances, the meat that was promised to have the kashrut certification of HaRav Machpud (or any other kashrut agency), did not in fact have it. Also, even if the mashgiach is present at an affair and does his job faithfully (and there are many such good people who do, thank God), and the meat does indeed come from the reliable kashrut agency that we were promised, we must understand that often, the kitchen workers use leftovers from previous affairs, and therefore, it is entirely possible that the meat approved by the mashgiach never reached our plate.
The reality of a public kosher kitchen is complex and involves many details. It would be naïve to think that one phrase is sufficient to sum up everything. If we were taking a mortgage, we would not be satisfied with the general statement, “The plan you took is fine.” We would certainly check things out thoroughly, and there is no reason that we should not act in the same manner when it comes to kashrut. As the Ramchal states in Mesilat Yesharim, food that is suspected of being prohibited is like food that is suspected of containing poison, and we would certainly not eat it!

2. “A Glatt Affair Just for You”
Many families decide on the hall in which they want to hold their simcha, and when the owner of the hall sees that the family has a problem with the level of kashrut at the place, he suggests the following: “Add another 500 NIS for the mashgiach, and he will be present throughout the entire affair,” or “Add five dollars more for each guest and we’ll make you a glatt affair.”
There is a vast discrepancy between the ideal situation and the reality, and the hall owner cannot be relied upon to upgrade the kashrut level on a one-time basis for us. This is true, firstly, because he has a personal interest in the matter. Also, there is the simple reason that a higher level of kashrut is dependent on other operating procedures that he is generally not aware of and does not know how to deal with. In addition, one should remember that a kashrut supervisor should carry out his duties faithfully, independent of the amount of money that he receives. If a mashgiach, whose job it is to be in the hall and supervise, now receives additional pay for his “special” work, this raises questions concerning both his regular work and his “special” work.
A significant part of kashrut work depends on the “human element,” that is, how the kashrut supervisor does his work. The mashgiach, as his name implies, is supposed to supervise what is going on in the kitchen, from beginning to end, at any point in time and at any place, including supervision of the various products and the cooking. A good mashgiach should also be a good foreman and human resources director who has control over the work staff and verifies that they are working properly and abiding by the proper kashrut procedures, just like a chef verifies that the kitchen workers prepare the food in the tastiest and most esthetic manner.
Of the various matters that are under the responsibility and jurisdiction of the kashrut supervisor, we have chosen to present only some, in the spirit of “Give to the wise man and he will become even wiser.” (Proverbs 9:9)
3. Matters Under the Jurisdiction of Kashrut Supervisors
A full-time mashgiach or one who “comes and goes”
One of the major differences between regular kashrut supervision and mehadrin kashrut supervision is the amount of time that the mashgiach is present. In regular kashrut supervision, the mashgiach goes “in and out” at various times. This means that he is not continuously present when the food is being cooked. By contrast, in mehadrin supervision, the mashgiach is continuously present in the kitchen while the food is being cooked.
Unfortunately, both in places where there is regular kashrut supervision and those where there is mehadrin supervision, it sometimes happens that the mashgiach is not present in the hall at all, or he arrives late, when the food is already being cooked. In places where there are two shifts of two different mashgichim, it can happen that the first mashgiach leaves long before the second mashgiach arrives, leaving the kitchen without supervision for long periods of time.
Non-Jewish cooking
In many halls, some of the kitchen workers are not Jewish. These workers serve in various capacities, from cleaners to head chef. Under regular kashrut supervision, the procedures that have been established concerning non-Jewish cooking are according to the Rama, and it is the mashgiach’s responsibility to verify that the lighting of the fire is performed by a Jew. But, in fact, there may often be situations where the mashgiach is not in the kitchen a significant portion of the day, and the dynamics of kitchen work lead to situations where the non-Jew lights the fire or the oven. Moreover, even in places where the mashgiach is present, at times the matter of lighting the fire is not tightly controlled and the non-Jew lights the fire himself.
In many cases the majority of the workers are not Jewish and therefore, the presence of a mashgiach has almost no significance. In addition, there are halls where the non-Jewish kitchen workers do not go home at night and sleep in the kitchen. They cook food for themselves, using the kitchen equipment without any supervision. (This occurs particularly in the case of foreign workers for whom the kitchen is their “home.”). And even if they cook only kosher food this still renders the utensils unkosher (Yoreh Deah 113:17)
One should be aware that with regard to the procedures of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel concerning non-Jewish cooking, there also are complex and problematic issues. According to the old procedures approved by the Chief Rabbinate Council concerning regular kashrut supervision, the mashgiach should be meticulous in the matter of non-Jewish cooking in accordance with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch. However, according to the new procedures, which have not as yet(!) been approved by the Chief Rabbinate Council, the directives for establishments with regular kashrut supervision are based on the opinion of the Rama. On the other hand, we would like to point out that there are places that have found a solution called the “constant flame”: The oven is never entirely turned off, but rather some part always remains on. Thus the non-Jew is putting food into an oven that is already lit, and he never actually lights it anew. We would like to stress that this is an effective solution only for those who go according to the opinion of the Rama.
Raw ingredients
In the average affair, dozens and probably hundreds of products are used in the kitchen. The principle is that under regular kashrut supervision, any product with any kashrut symbol can be used, whereas under mehadrin supervision, only products certified as mehadrin may be used. In reality, it is very difficult to pay attention to the many differences among the products and to the various levels of kashrut. Thus, in an establishment with regular kashrut supervision, one can find products with kashrut supervision from abroad that are on a very low level of kashrut, alongside products with a good level of kashrut from a certified rabbinate in Israel.
Furthermore, the mashgiach often does not have the ability to supervise and enforce his standards concerning all the raw ingredients that are used. This can lead to serious cases where raw ingredients found in the kitchen bear no kashrut certification at all. In addition, the complexity of kashrut certifications and the many forgeries require the mashgiach to recognize the problematic products and to ensure that raw ingredients with forged kashrut certification are not being brought into the kitchen.
Beyond government enforcement of laws that prohibit kashrut forgeries and require the removal of non-kosher items from the shelves, the major responsibility still falls on the shoulders of the kashrut supervisor on site. The mashgiach must be familiar with the current updates of the Rabbinate pertaining to kashrut forgeries, he must identify suspicious markings on a product (such as a kashrut symbol printed on an external label and not on the actual product), and he must know whom to turn to in order to receive clarifications in these matters. Establishing a kashrut supervisory system that functions at a suitable level requires the mashgiach to be involved in the selection of raw ingredients and to be meticulous in assuring that each and every product indeed meets the criteria of the appropriate kashrut level and is suitable for use. The mashgiach must be familiar with the providers of kashrut supervision at all levels, and check out problems that exist at every stage of the work, in every place in the kitchen.
Understandably, in a kashrut supervisory system on the mehadrin level, there is a limited list of raw ingredients and products with particular certifications that can be used. Therefore, the emphasis in the supervision is on meeting these standards, almost making it unnecessary to check new products each time.
Leafy vegetables without bugs
In recent years, we have seen dozens of companies that grow leafy vegetables in accordance with the “Gush Katif method.” At one point, the Chief Rabbinate decided to systematically conduct blind laboratory tests on the produce of many of these companies. The results were publicized and the companies were rated based on the extent to which the produce met the criteria of what can be designated as”leafy vegetables without bugs.” In light of these inspections, the Chief Rabbinate published updated instructions on the use of vegetables from the various companies and the need to check them. One should be aware that unfortunately at present, due to an appeal submitted to the High Court of Justice, the Rabbinate has stopped performing these tests.
In spite of these much-needed inspections, many places still do not follow the procedures of the Rabbinate in this matter. Almost every hall uses leafy vegetables from any company that claims that its produce is “grown without bugs.” To our chagrin, the mashgiach himself (who is employed by the Rabbinate) is frequently unfamiliar with the directives of the Rabbinate and does not know the difference between one company and another. Aside from the issue of the standards of the different companies, there is often disregard of the explicit instructions on the packages regarding the cleaning of the vegetables, which require soaking in soap water and rinsing under a stream of water. According to the directives of the Rabbinate, it is permissible to market leafy vegetables as being “without bugs” if the bugs fall off after soaking and washing under a stream of water.
Nowadays, we are finding many problems with fish of all kinds. Each type of fish has unique halachic issues that require consideration. These issues must be addressed in order to consume fish without fear of parasites or worms. Awareness of this issue is still not widespread. In fact, in many halls, no attention is paid to it, at times due to a total lack of awareness of the problems in this area.
Deep fryers
Many products undergo deep frying in oil. Often, the kitchen has only one fryer, and when frying fish and meat, the same oil, which contains remnants of the meat or fish, is used. Similarly, oil that is used to fry meat is used to fry salad that is assumed to be pareve, and the diner, who has no idea how it was prepared, eats it with fish, thus again raising the problem of “a danger is more serious than a prohibition.”
According to the directives of the Chief Rabbinate regarding the mehadrin level of kashrut, frozen liver that was broiled can be eaten, but it is forbidden to cook it, since three days (72 hours) have passed from the moment the animal was slaughtered without having been broiled. The fact that it was frozen during those three days is of no significance, since many poskim hold that it is prohibited to cook liver that was broiled three days after the animal was slaughtered, even if it was frozen during those three days. Many establishments are totally unaware of this directive, and they cook frozen liver that has been broiled even though three days have passed from the animals’ slaughter. As noted, this is contrary to the procedures of the Rabbinate.
In addition, there are places where the broiling of the liver is done on the same equipment and in the same ovens that are used to prepare other food. And according to the Ramah the utensils absorb blood and can only be used for liver and not for cooking any other types of food.
4. Who Takes Responsibility for Event Managers?
Nowadays, affairs are held in outdoor venues that have no kitchen facilities, and the food is ordered directly from caterers. In addition, event managers use halls, even well-known ones, but they take responsibility for the entire affair, including the preparation of the food.
An event management firm may consist of only a few people who organize the execution of the affair, according to the requests of the client. The company makes sure to order the food from a certain caterer, to rent a hall or garden, to prepare serving trays, and to hire waiters. In such a situation, it is possible that a person is eating in a hall whose kashrut standard is known and accepted by him, but that the food he is served did not originate in the kitchen of that hall, but rather in a different kitchen where the kashrut level is completely different. This situation is also common when a “mobile bar,” providing alcoholic beverages or desserts for the guests, is brought in. The bar may not have any kashrut certificate, or some of the products may not be kosher, since, in some instances, we are dealing with private individuals who prepare these items in their homes, without any kashrut supervision.
In addition, sometimes the event manager acquires the food from a caterer with a high standard of kashrut, but there is a lack of continuity between the status of the food when it leaves the caterer and when it is served in the hall. The food may be transported by a non-Jewish driver without a “seal within a seal,” as required by the halachah to prevent a situation of “meat that has disappeared from view.” This can happen when the food is transported without the accompaniment of a kashrut supervisor, as required by the directives of the Chief Rabbinate for caterers. The problem is even more acute when the food is picked up from a number of kitchens, without overall supervision and without clear knowledge of where each food item originated.
Moreover, the event manager can decide to add to the menu additional items which did not come from the caterer and on which there is no kashrut supervision. This is done mostly to cut the cost of the catering or to upgrade the quality of the affair. In order to maintain the freshness of the food served, the final stage of the cooking (such as frying appetizers or grilling pullet) is often carried out at the hall on equipment that is not under any supervision, and by non-Jewish workers. It is also entirely possible that the eating and serving utensils that are rented for the affair, as “mehudar” as it may be, come from rental companies that have no kashrut certification or supervision on the use of the utensils!
Finally, in spite of all the good intentions and the desire to lower the cost of the affair and upgrade the food coming from the caterer, it is impossible to operate without kashrut supervision and constant guidance. The problem might be adding a leafy vegetable (for decorative purposes) that is not approved, or in more serious cases, using meats or products from other places, as deemed necessary by the event managers. (Replacing spoiled kosher meat with non-kosher meat, as was done at the affair at the President’s Residence on Israeli Independence Day 2012, is a striking example of this!)
In this article we touched on certain matters that should be considered before eating at an affair or hall or when we are interested in organizing an affair with a proper level of kashrut. Good supervision means that the mashgiach wants to do his work in the best possible way. The mashgiach must be familiar with all the practical and technical details touched on above, in addition to being an expert in all the relevant areas of halachah.
A system of kashrut supervision should be built in a comprehensive manner, and function in an orderly way, without breaches. From our experience in the Supervision Department of Kosharot, we can attest that proper kashrut supervision is definitely possible, if we appreciate its importance and give it the attention that it deserves. (Elyasaf Parshan)

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One comment

  • November 6, 2012 - 23:43 | Permalink

    Very well explained and put down. Are there qualified Mashgichim that know it from alef to taf? Qualified Mashgichim must be properly trained. Years of experience may only complicate the process of untraining from old unreliable methods.

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