By: Rabbi Tsvi Heber, Director of Community Kosher
Keeping kosher has never been as easy as it is today. Just take a stroll down the “kosher aisles” of the local COR certified supermarkets and you will observe a plethora of kosher products. All your basic food groups and more are readily available bearing kosher certification. Culinary experiences offered at an array of kosher restaurants and event venues have reached an unprecedented level of sophistication and taste.
Some may remember a time when “kosher food production” simply referred to the local milkman who went down to the farm to supervise the milking of the cows or to a woman who kashered her chickens by salting them in her kitchen. Needless to say, much has changed since then. Ingredient complexities and highly sophisticated manufacturing techniques and machinery have redefined the meaning of kosher production. We live in an age when the addition of an emulsifier (often derived from cow or hog) in ice cream can render it non-kosher; and where 100% vegetable oil may be produced on the same equipment as animal fat. Seemingly basic ingredients such as natural flavours and colours may be derived from insects and artificial flavours, from cats. Indeed, the job of the kosher certifier has become all the more challenging.
At the helm of successful kosher supervision programs and unrelenting in their willingness to meet these challenges, are the Mashgichim, literally, kosher supervisors. Briefly put, a Mashgiach’s job is to ensure that the food manufacturer is in compliance with the policies of the governing kosher certifying agency. Accomplishing this feat requires an array of technical, social and halachic skills. As a rule, companies and food establishments can look forward to working with professionals who are knowledgeable in the areas of kosher law that pertain to their particular assignment, are eager to understand the company’s operations, can explain kosher requirements and will work with the company to resolve issues. Although, in many cases, Mashgichim do not have rabbinic ordination, they do have training appropriate to the handling of their responsibilities and they seek rabbinic guidance when necessary. Often, the Mashgiach will be referred to as “Rabbi” as a recognition of this religious responsibility, irrespective of a formal degree of ordination.
Kashrus professionals who supervise industrial manufacturing facilities have multifaceted knowledge of food plants. They use their knowledge of food science and chemistry to determine potential pitfalls in the company’s ingredients and formulae. In order to “kasher” non-kosher industrial equipment, they require a basic understanding of mechanical engineering. The Kashrus Professional has a strong understanding of the different manufacturing processes that are used by the plant to determine if there is any risk of cross contamination between kosher and non-kosher. Good computer skills and knowledge of the kosher certifier’s database are always prerequisite qualifications.
Kashrus professionals who supervise foodservice type establishments also have basic knowledge in food science and commercial equipment and processes. They are trained to understand aspects of entomology in order to understand insect infestations in food. They also have an understanding of basic aspects of financial reporting to identify any abnormalities in purchases and sales. Select Mashgichim are trained to safely operate torches and hot water kettles for the purpose of “kashering” non-kosher equipment.
Whether young or old, novice or veteran, the New-Age Mashgiach has evolved into a true Kashrus Professional.