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Understanding the Complexities of Kosher Ingredients

By: Dr. Luke Grocholl1, Rabbi Gershon Segal,
1Dr. Luke Grocholl, Quality Assurance Supervisor, Sigma-Aldrich Flavors & Fragrances

Introduction

Any chemical that enters the food chain must meet strict regulatory criteria to ensure consumer safety. The precise rules are generally dependent on the country or region in which it is being used. While many of the requirements are similar, whether a product meets regulation often comes down to specific details for each product, including the way it is manufactured and the rules regarding any residual amounts of contaminants. One exception is kosher food products, where the rules remain the same regardless of where the products are manufactured or what the end use will be.

In order for a food product to be deemed kosher, it must meet very stringent rules. Not only does the final product need to be certified, but it must also adhere to strict manufacturing and packaging rules throughout production of the item. To receive a final kosher seal of approval, there can be no possibility of exception in how the product was made, packaged or shipped. While the dietary laws of kosher may be straightforward, applying them to the modern food industry, particularly the flavor manufacturing industry, is no simple task.

What is a Kosher Product?

Kosher standards are derived from Jewish law in the biblical books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The standards are based on a covenant with God to be disciplined, committed to eating only those foods which are considered clean, and maintaining clean cooking preparations.

There is a common misconception that a blessing from a rabbi is all that is required to make a food product kosher. In fact, the process is far more complicated, and involves professional kosher supervision at all stages of the production, handling and labeling of the item.

The Hebrew word kosher translates to mean right or proper. Within the kosher food classifications, there are three categories by which kosher food is classified: meat (fleishig), dairy (milchig) and pareve (neutral). Within each of those categories, further rules exist regarding the ways in which the food is handled and consumed. Regardless of the additional rules for consumption, any product that has been labeled as kosher indicates that the item meets the basic food product standards set by the Jewish dietary law.

While the laws are varied and complex, many of them relate to the limitations placed on the suitability of animal-based products for human consumption. When applied to flavor chemicals used in foods, it is important to determine that the chemical is free from any animal-based ingredients or starting materials. This can make production of kosher certified chemicals more challenging since many food-starting materials are derived from animal sources. For example, glycerin, oleic acid and stearic acids, are all starting materials that are frequently made from animal-based components. Additionally, many modern food ingredient chemicals are produced via fermentation, where the growth media often contain animal derived products such as beef extract and peptones.

Considerations for Kosher Certification

Kosher certification of any food chemical or product requires a partnership with a respected rabbi. The rabbi acts as the guide for the manner in which kosher products are made, and is the only one who can issue an official kosher certificate. This certificate indicates which products are kosher certified and what kosher seal to look for on the product label.

In addition to certifying all raw materials used in food products as kosher, the equipment and utensils that are shared between kosher and non-kosher products require rigorous cleaning. This is often informally referred to as being kosherized, which means that the area and machines have been made kosher. There is a broad consensus among the rabbinic community about the standards to earn kosher certification, including the approval of raw materials, equipment and procedures.

The rabbi’s evaluation of raw materials includes the reviewing of kosher certificates provided by suppliers for their materials. These certificates will often list product label requirements, such as a kosher seal or symbol and generally include an expiration date. Even in cases where there has been an approval issued, the raw materials and facility are still open to audits for verification of kosher approval including unannounced on-site visits to the facility.

During an audit, the rabbi will inspect all raw materials, batch records, receiving logs and electronic records. This means that any kosher certified company has another layer of quality control integrated into their system, with an additional set of eyes monitoring the system for adherence to policy and procedure.

Any company that manufactures or distributes kosher certified products must keep an up-to-date database of kosher requirements, containing all the current relevant information. These include the label requirements, the expiration date of the certificate and any other requirements the rabbi demands. For bulk ingredients, transport documentation may be necessary to confirm the origin of the material, as well as to verify that the tanker used for transport is also kosher certified. Many times these tanks are kosher-dedicated and will have their own kosher certificates.

Manufacturing equipment must also be verified to conform to kosher requirements. The equipment in a facility that is dedicated to kosher/pareve production will generally not require any further evaluation because the equipment is only being used to produce kosher items. However, in facilities where machines are also used to make non-kosher ingredients or different categories of kosher (i.e. pareve, dairy or meat) the rabbi will determine how it must be kosherized between production cycles. This will always involve a thorough cleaning, which is then often followed by sanitization procedures that use boiling water or other heat treatments. The heat treatments for equipment for liquid products will usually range between 190 - 212 degrees Fahrenheit (88 - 100 degrees Celsius), and the length of time a product is subjected to the treatment will vary depending on each situation. As each of these factors play greatly into the success of the evaluation, the rabbi will often be present and closely study temperature charts and graphs to make sure that all standards are met along the way.

The packaging process must also be carefully monitored to ensure all filling equipment is appropriate for the handling of kosher products. Each label bears a kosher seal, and the application of the seal is controlled by a system that ensures it cannot mistakenly be applied to non-kosher products.

Kosher’s Added Benefit to the Food Industry

The kosher certification process enhances the overall quality control of a production line as it requires an additional certification at every control point from raw materials purchasing, receiving, label and document verification, to the manufacturing process itself, including the condition of equipment, filling, packaging and labeling of the finished product. This extra layer of control in kosher certification, in turn, provides an additional layer of supply chain security for the buyer by augmenting the overall quality system with discoveries of information about the raw materials that may not have come to the forefront otherwise.

Chemicals that are kosher certified are not exclusively for kosher use – they can also be used freely in non-kosher applications. The additional scrutiny involved in the kosher certification process can lead to an improvement in the overall quality of the products and the sharpening of the monitoring process throughout the quality system. If a product has a kosher seal, the customer can be sure that what they are purchasing has been subject to higher scrutiny than a non-kosher product would. The added layers of certifications and verifications in the kosher certification process ultimately act as an additional value to the end user.

Sigma-Aldrich’s Kosher Experience and Offering

Sigma-Aldrich has a clear understanding of kosher regulations, facilitated through a close working partnership with Rabbi Gershon Segal to ensure compliance with kosher manufacturing and packaging rules. Customers who are looking for clarification of the complex regulations for kosher certification can take advantage of Sigma-Aldrich’s experience to guarantee that they comply with the strictest kosher standards and to ensure that these products exceed the quality level of a comparable non-kosher product.

As a globally recognized industry leader in kosher ingredient production, Sigma-Aldrich offers more than 1,200 kosher-certified chemicals supported by more than 25 years of experience in the sector, and a strong rabbinical partnership. To learn more about Sigma-Aldrich’s kosher offering, please visit our website at sigma-aldrich.com/flavors-fragrances.


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