For nearly ten years I have eaten a strictly kosher diet. This has meant that when I enter a supermarket, I must carefully examine any product with which I am not familiar to see if is kosher certified. When I come across a product that is not certified that interests me, I do the following :
First, I check to see if there are any companies that make a similar product that is kosher certified. If I succeed in finding such a product, I go with that and end my quest there. If, however, I do not succeed in finding a similar product, I immediately try to find contact information for the company and either send them an e-mail or a letter. The purpose of the letter is to attempt to persuade them of the importance of kosher certification.
What does kosher certification mean, and what does it not mean? There are many notions that people have about what it means to be kosher and what it means not to be kosher — these notions are frequently based on what they have heard from friends or what they assume it means. Moreover, the majority of the notions are completely wrong.
Here are some wrong notions, starting with the worst — that a Rabbi comes into the plant and “blesses” the food somehow, and makes it holy. It is easy to see why people might come to this assumption. Jews, particularly those who dress a certain way and are perceived to be more inclined to pray three times a day, have the concept of “sacred” associated with them.
Another incorrect notion is that if it isn’t bacon, and it isn’t a cheeseburger, then it must be kosher. There are restaurants that bill themselves as “kosher style” meaning that the food that they serve is similar to the kind of food that would be produced that is kosher — generally speaking, food that is associated with Jews from Eastern Europe — a few examples being kugel, cholent (basically a stew with beans, grains, and sometimes meat), and different kinds of chicken. Kosher style means that the food itself does not necessarily adhere to the laws of kosher food.
So what does kosher certification actually mean? It simply means that a trained inspector has inspected the facilities and all of the ingredients that go into a food or product and verify that the ingredients are all kosher and the equipment does not have non-kosher production on it or is cleaned in a particular manner prior to a kosher run. With regard to the ingredients, they are either themselves kosher certified (such as when a frozen meal has soy sauce as an ingredient and that soy sauce must therefore be certified) or one of many known to be kosher if insect free and properly prepared.
In this regard, kosher certification is more like when a company brings in an accounting firm to go over their financial records and ensure that they are doing everything properly. It isn’t nearly as significant as if the firm looked over their own books because an outside firm looks in with a razor sharp objectivity.
Kosher certification can have deep significance for those who do know of or adhere to a kosher diet. For example, kosher certification deems it necessary to mark if a product has meat, fish, or dairy ingredients. If it has neither meat nor dairy, it is certified as being parve, or neutral — fish is not considered a meat in Jewish law. Therefore, if a person wishes to eat neither meat nor dairy, there is one hundred percent certainty that they can avoid it with food certified as parve — vegetarians have fewer ingredient lists to peruse when they see that kosher certification.
Does kosher certification cost money? It certainly does, just as getting a building green certified would or a calorie chart generated for a restaurant that wishes to boast of its low calorie options. The certification can be categorized as marketing and indeed it is — people looking for kosher certified spirulina drink mixes will find yours if it is certified.
If your organization produces a food that is kosher certified, don’t be shy about it and declare it on your web site, whether on its own page or a frequently asked questions list. Moreover, it behooves you to disclose the name of the firm that certifies your product so people can determine to what extent they accept that company’s certification — they are not all equal.
If your product is not yet kosher certified, ask yourself if it can be and if it would be worth making it kosher. The common Oreo cookie, which once counted lard as an ingredient decided to take it out and now can be found in Kosher households around the country — as well as many Muslim ones. The company that makes the vegan product Vega Sport — a post-workout drink — they do not yet have kosher certification but I am hoping that this article and a few letters may persuade them to change this.