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New York…Major kashrus agencies are increasingly forging ties with all segments of the core-kosher market. The agencies are also said to be working closely with other kashrus groups in an effort to project unity and espousal of high kashrus standards. As part of its Harry H. Beren ASK OU Outreach program, several hundred participants in Boro Park heard a group of rabbis discuss kashrus issues. The OU Kashrus Department held similar seminars in Monsey, Flatbush, Far Rockaway/Five Towns, and Los Angeles. Participants said there was a concerted effort to demonstrate the OU’s close working relationship with other Orthodox and Chasidic kashrus groups. The OU leadership in the past several months has also visited with Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Joel in Upstate, New York. It also met with the Sephardic sage Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem, to forge better ties with the Sephardic community, who rely on the Bet Yosef certification. Observers say that there is “unprecedented cooperation amongst the kashrus agencies despite the competitive environment.” They say that this is an extremely positive development for the kosher consumer who must negotiate “the complex kashrus maze.” One rabbi familiar with the kashrus scene said: “The good news is that there is more uniformity of standards than ever before.”
New York…by Netanel Cohn, Kosher Today Features Editor…With the Passover season rapidly approaching, major kashrus organizations were gearing up for “an avalanche” of customer inquiries, as one official put it. In interviews with the agencies, there was a general sense that kosher consumers are increasingly turning to major kashrus agencies for answers to questions they have about kosher certification, Passover and year-round. The consumers use the conventional switchboard, special hotlines and the Web, according to the kashrus agencies. Rabbi Chaim Fogelman of the Brooklyn-based OK Kosher Certification said that on average “we receive 40-50 kashrus inquires a day, split between e-mail and phone.” Mrs. Phyllis Koegel of the Orthodox Union said that its Kosher Consumer Hotline receives an average of 150 calls a day, sometimes reaching close to 170 calls on busy days. The OU also receives approximately some 50 -85 questions a day through its on-line Webbe Rebbe, according to the OU executive. During the final weeks before Passover, said Mrs. Koegel, the number of inquiries rises to between 300 and 500 a day. Mrs. Anne Senter, of the Teaneck NJ based Kof-K Kashrus said that its consumer hotline “receives about 850 questions a month divided approximately equally between e-mail and phone inquiries.” She added that “questions are usually answered directly by the Rabbi who deals with the specific company.” Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago-based cRc said that his agency receives “about 1,000 consumer inquires each month, but many more visit the website and use our ipod app.”
The agencies agreed that technology has played a major role in the surging number of inquiries. At the Kof-K site, one can go online, fill out a form and e-mail the question. The cRc developed a kosher app because “we’re thinking about the individual stuck in the supermarket who needs kosher advice,” said Rabbi Fishbane. At the OU, it’s the popular Webbe Rebbe that answers the on-line questions. The organizations also said that many of the inquiries are made by baffled consumers on who might be behind a generic “k” or the identity of an unknown symbol or rabbi. Other major subjects are the possible dairy content of a product, the credibility of a rabbi, or the kashrus of a product that appears to be inherently kosher.
New York…The suit by the Orthodox Union (OU) against Western Edge “for trademark infringement and deceptive trade practice” raised the issue of the need for kosher certification for repackaged foods. In Western Edge’s case, they imported tilapia fish from a Chinese company that represented itself as kosher and was not. The suit alleges that Western Edge produced a fraudulent OU letter when asked by a Brooklyn food company about the kosher status of its tilapia fillets. But kashrus officials say that Western Edge would have needed kosher certification even if the Chinese company was certified because it was processing and repackaging the tilapia. Interestingly enough, the requirement for kosher certification for repackaged foods is not one of the universal policies adopted by such umbrella kashrus groups as the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO). While there may not be an official policy, “the standard is that if it is opened up at the repackaging company then some level of rabbinic oversight is needed if they want to use a kosher logo there as well,” said Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, Executive Director of AKO. Most kashrus officials agreed that a brand could not rely on the kosher certification of the manufacturer if the product is repackaged. “The minute the box is opened at a repackaging plant, that’s when our certification ends,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union. The officials say that they often have to “chase down” companies that don’t bother to apply for kosher certification because they are convinced that they are automatically covered by the manufacturer’s certification. They make the distinction between kosher manufacturers that do private labeling and manufacturers that ship products to be repackaged by a distributor, wholesaler or retailer. In the earlier case, kashrus officials who are on site or do periodic inspections are aware of the label on the package while in the latter case they are not which is why they require a new application for certification.
Chicago…by Staff Reporters…Does plain roasted kasha require kosher certification? How about Sun dried tomatos without any flavors or added oil coatings, which usually are listed in the ingredients? These are some of the questions addressed to the rabbinic team at the Chicago Rabbinical Council via Twitter. According to Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, its Kashrus Administrator, social media is increasingly being used by the agency to transmit kashrus alerts and solicit subscriptions for their kashrus newsletter. Several rabbis involved in kashrus say that they “keep in touch” with many customers and even companies they supervise via Facebook. But social media is just at the early stages for the industry as a whole, industry sources say. Sam Davidowitz, the IT specialist at the Orthodox Union (OU), says that despite the agency’s comprehensive Web presence, there is still very little activity through social media. Rabbi Zechariah Senter of the Kof-K Kosher Certification agency said that most of the communications by consumers with the agency “is still through e-mail.” Many in the kosher industry believe that “it is only a matter of time” when social media plays more of a role in the growth of kosher. They say that there already is a network of “kosher foodies” that use social media extensively, even offering up-to the-minute alerts about specials in the neighborhood. Rabbi Fishbane believes that the kosher agencies should begin to promote social media like Twitter to expand their reach to the kosher market.
New York…With the addition of hundreds of new kosher products comes a drawback that has many kashrus sources and ordinary consumers on edge. It seems that as the number of products increase so do the number of alerts that appear in Anglo Jewish newspapers, kosher certification agency newsletters, and the blogs that routinely cover such alerts. The alerts typically involve an unauthorized usage of a kosher symbol as was the case with Snapple recently when its certifier, OK Kosher Certification, alerted customers that the 24 pack – 20 oz plastic bottles of Snapple had been incorrectly labeled OK Pareve. It appeared that while most of the flavors were kosher, the Fruit Punch was not. Another advisory referred to JELL-O Strawberry Cheesecake Snacks produced by Kraft Foods which the OK does not certify because it contains gelatin. The issues with kosher certification are as widespread with larger manufacturers as they are with smaller ones.
Also of concern is changed status of restaurants and retail establishments. In Chicago, the cRc had to warn customers that it no longer certified many Red Mango stores around the country. Changes in certification at many eating establishments routinely occur but in many cases the stores are left without certification. Kashrus agencies say they are noticing an increased volume of calls to their consumer hotlines. One rabbi told Kosher Today that the calls begin the minute that there “is any kind of buzz about the kashrus status of a product or eating establishment.”
New York…by KT Staff Reporters…Just when you have perfected the important practice of checking vegetables for insects comes a new guide on the kashrus of oil by the Orthodox Union (OU). The “OU Manual for the Oil Industry” is designed for mashgichim and others who supervise cooking and baking with oil. It follows on the heels of the OU’s guidebook for the baking industry. Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, stated: “This manual is an important step in the department’s goal to provide kosher industry professionals and kosher consumers alike with a thorough, extensive education in kosher laws and practices.” Printed in full color with many vivid illustrations, the recently-published manual focuses on three specific areas of concern for kosher certifiers, kosher food retailers and service facilities: technology, practicalities and methodologies of kosher supervision, and the official rulings of OU halachic authorities. Topics include refinement, fractionation, and deodorization of oil. Rabbi Moshe Zywica, the OU’s Director of Operations, helped coordinate the manual. He calls it “required reading for anyone supervising or certifying an oil agency, and the first manual of its kind to explain the issues involved with ensuring the oil used in cooking and baking is completely kosher.” In addition to Rabbi Zywica, those who worked on the manual are Rabbi Yaacov Luban, the OU’s executive rabbinic coordinator, who served as the editor; Dr. Avraham Meyer, who has a PhD in chemistry and who Rabbi Luban calls “a walking encyclopedia of technology and kashrus,” who served as an advisor for the text; Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, an OU Rabbinic Coordinator who oversees the oil industry; and Rabbi Avraham Juravel, an OU Rabbinic Coordinator who reviewed the entire manual before its publishing. To obtain copies of the manual, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Dallas…An impressive gathering last month of kashrus committees from all over the US and Canada as well as Mexico was the setting for an important discussion on the status of thousands of mashgichim (kosher supervisors). Sponsored by the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO), the conference heard Rabbi Nissin Davidi of the RCC in Los Angeles urge the attendees to officially adopt minimum standards for accepting a mashgiach into any of the AKO members Vaadim. The agreed upon items ranged from assuring the correct legal status of mashgichim to their proper dress code. After much debate the minimum standards were approved. The important role of the mashgiach in a kashrus organization was underscored by Mr. Bill Finkelstein, one of the founders of Dallas Kosher, who now serves as their attorney. Mr. Finkelstein pointed to the different ways a kashrus certification agency can be liable for a mashgiach’s mistakes. Mr. David Scharf, formerly of Scharf and Ram Caterers, shared some of the “tricks” that caterers and restaurant owners play on mashgichim. Even the most experienced rabbis in the group were amazed at Mr. Scharf’s words as well as his recipe for a successful relationship with the most seasoned owners. There was a recognition that the mashgiach is an important component of elevating the standards of kashrus. Rabbi Reuven Stein of the Vaad of Dallas proposed “the Mashgiach’s Bill of Rights”. This was a result of a year’s work for Rabbi Stein. The AKO members unanimously voted to introduce these conditions into their contracts. The articles in the document include proper working conditions for a Mashgiach, as well as what jobs a mashgiach may or may not be allowed to perform on the job. It also addresses the proper method for a mashgiach to address any grievances.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Postville, IA…The owners of Agri Star, the successors of Agriprocessing, may have learnt a valuable lesson last week when one of its main hechsherim pulled its certification. The departure of Rabbi Menachem M. Weissmnadl caused an immediate uproar, prompting the owners to threaten legal action and recourse in a rabbinical court. Sources say that friction between the team of Rabbi Weissmandl and the ownership of Mr. Heshi Friedman had been going on for weeks. In his brief announcement, Rabbi Weissmandl noted that he was removing his kosher certification from all the various brands of AgriStar. Sources say that the loss of the hechsher to Agri could further complicate the company’s recovery efforts. One source familiar with similar changes in kosher certifications said: “The cost of changing the labels alone is enough to cause someone to think twice, let alone of the fallout from a dropped hechsher.” In addition to Rabbi Weissmandl’s hechsher, Agri Star products are also certified by the Orthodox Union (OU). Although Rabbi Weissmandl was careful not to cast aspersions on the kashrus, many of his followers and others are questioning the motives behind his departure. A source close to the controversy said: “Let us just say that the cultures were not compatible.” Agri Star continues to be a major producer of kosher poultry and to date has not yet resumed the slaughter of cattle since its predecessor Agriprocessing declared bankruptcy. A source close to the Friedmans told Kosher Today that the resumption of the schechita of cattle was imminent. Many questions loomed in the wake of the developments at Agri Star, including the fate of some of the shochtim who are part of the operation of Agri Star. A spokesman for the Orthodox Union said that the OU would continue to certify Agri just as it has for many years. They emphasized that the integrity of the kashrus was not compromised by the change.
New York, NY…by Elie Appleson… Wholesale suppliers such as Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s have attained market popularity by providing consumers with discounted prices in exchange for buying in bulk. Recently, Costco has been carrying new products which are creating a new convenient and more current image for this mass retailer. With its vast and expanding kosher availability, Costco has recognized its loyal customer base, and in addition they have begun carrying kosher organic products. As of December 1st, 2009, Costco became a supplier for “Truly Organic Baking,” a company that produces affordable and convenient organic and baking products. Some of their most popular merchandise includes organic banana bread mix, muffin mix, pancake mix, and pizza dough mix. All the products are certified organic by the CCOF and USDA and the Organic Trade Association and certified kosher by the Star K Kosher Certification, based in Baltimore Md.
By Menachem Lubinsky
Jerusalem…The ongoing boycott by many Orthodox Jews of Strauss Dairies has nothing to do with the kashrus of the products of one of Israeli food giants. According to Idele Ross, the Bureau Chief of Kosher Today in Israel, the boycott came after Strauss Dairies changed its stricter mehadrin kashrus supervision from that of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Landau, Chief Rabbi of Bnai Brak and respected authority on kashrus supervision to that of Rabbi Avraham Rubin whose ‘Badatz Mehadrin‘ is said to be particularly prestigious. Charedi media, says Ross, are reporting that many groups believe the new arrangement is a serious affront to the stature and reputation of Rabbi Landau. Strauss Dairies said in a statement that the changes are being made because Rubin’s certification is more convenient for them. Rabbi Rubin was the former kashrus administrator for the OU in Israel. The new supervision pertains to Strauss’s new line of soft white cheeses being produced specifically to the stricter requirements of the mehadrin community, precisely the group that is now calling for a boycott of Strauss products. Apparently, says Idele Ross, many rabbis affiliated with the Gur and Chabad Chasidic movements were employed by Rabbi Landau. The religious daily Hamodia, associated with the Agudas Yisroel organization, published a statement from Rabbi Landau notifying the public of the Strauss decision. Strauss defended its new arrangement as something that was done with Rabbi Landau‘s consent.