Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kosher Supervision: Part 2


Reading The Label – Why The Ingredient List is Not Enough: Label-scanning becomes a habit for the kosher-conscious as well as for the health-conscious consumer. Looking for the hechsher and for the statement of whether a product is dairy, meat or pareve, or for questionable ingredients listed on the label, are necessary procedures. But the ingredient listing alone, without kosher certification, cannot be used to determine whether the product is kosher. Some factors which could cause a seemingly innocent product to be non-kosher are:

*A food may be processed in a factory where non-kosher products are also prepared and the same machinery is used for both. The food produced in such a factory is non-kosher, unless a reliable mashgiach (kosher overseer) supervises the koshering of this equipment.

*Many additives used to enhance the flavor, texture and color of food are not kosher. Their names are often technical or vague (e.g. “natural flavors”), with the result that we do not know exactly what they are. All additives must also be processed on kosher equipment for the product to be kosher. (For further discussion of additives, see below.)

*Only “ingredients” must appear on the label. Processing agents, release agents, and other substances, often of animal origin, are technically not considered “ingredients” and usually are not listed. For example, oils and fats used to coat the pans for baked goods are not listed as ingredients and are often not kosher.

*Oils or shortening must be certified kosher and pareve. According to government standards, an ingredient may be listed as vegetable oil or shortening even when containing a small percentage of animal fat.

*The ingredients or a product may have been slightly altered, yet the manufacturer is allowed to continue using the same labels until new ones are printed.

*Manufacturers of certain products, such as ice cream, are not required to list ingredients at all, and therefore may list them selectively.

*Israeli products, which need special supervision, are often used by large companies. We would never be aware of their presence simply by reading the label.

How food technology affects kosher
We can see from the preceding examples that our foods are often not one hundred percent what they appear to be. Even “pure apple juice” or “pure apple cider,” with “no artificial ingredients or additives,” may not be kosher. Apple juice is a good example of what may happen to a “natural” product when nature meets technology, so we will explore it in further detail.

“Pure apple juice” generally has gelatin (made from the skin, cartilage, bones and meat of non-kosher animals) added to remove the pectin from the juice and to give it a clear appearance. The pectin attaches itself to the gelatin and both are filtered out. Kosher problems can arise in the filtering method or if the juice is heated before filtering. Even a “cloudy” juice, which would seem to indicate that no clarifying agent has been added, sometimes indicates the opposite: the gelatin has been added, but not totally removed, in order to give it a “natural” appearance.

In addition, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) currently approves a number of different food colorings. Many are of natural origin, including fairly common red dyes derived from insects — which may be completely “natural” but are not kosher. Nutritional additives such as proteins, amino acids or vitamins may also be non-kosher or render a pareve product dairy. For example some tuna fish is made dairy by virtue of the type of protein added. When buying tuna, be sure it bears a reliable hechsher. One must still carefully examine the list of ingredients to be sure that no dairy ingredients are included. Sometimes, but not always, dairy products are marked with a “D” next to the hechsher.

These few examples should provide us with ample reason to insist upon reliable kosher certification when shopping for food, even for foods considered “natural.”

Staying informed: it is more important than ever for the kosher consumer to be aware of new information, because changes in kosher supervision and in food production occur almost daily.

Sometimes these changes are misleading to the consumer. A manufacturer, for example, may change a product’s ingredients and yet keep the same label with its kashrut symbol. Kosher agencies often remove or add their certification. Mistakes are sometimes made in the labeling of ingredients, indicating, for example, that a product is pareve when it is really dairy, or vice versa.

To keep up to date in the complex world of kosher one should keep in touch with those who are knowledgeable and also read some of the magazines or newsletters devoted to keeping the public informed in matters of kosher supervision.


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