Rabkin is the director of marketing and business development with the Kashruth Council of Canada, the largest kosher certification agency in the country. Speaking at a Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) innovation breakfast on Jan. 25, he explained what it means for a product to be considered kosher.
Meaning “fit for consumption,” the term kosher comes from the Bible, which lays out animals that are not fit to be eaten, including pigs, rabbits and shellfish. Other Jewish legal works, including the Talmud, expand on this list and detail how kosher foods should be prepared. For example, a trained rabbi must slaughter meat from kosher animals, dairy and meat products are to be kept separate at all times, and production processes must remove all traces of insects, which are considered unfit for consumption.
Rabkin explained that in order for an item to be considered kosher, every single ingredient and ingredient component that goes into it must be kosher. But, he warned, sourcing all kosher ingredients is no guarantee that your operation is putting kosher products on the market. Non-kosher “flavour” can be conducted from equipment or machinery to food, contaminating kosher products and making them off-limits to religious adherents. Even steam from a non-kosher product can render an otherwise acceptable product non kosher. A single facility can produce both kosher and non-kosher products, but Rabkin said that staff must take steps to fully isolate the kosher production and adhere to a rigorous cleansing regimen if moving kosher production to a non-kosher area.
Rabkin credited the strict rules governing kosher food production with prompting consumers from all walks of life to pick kosher products. His presentation highlighted the results of a 2009 Mintel survey that found just 14 per cent of kosher purchasers were following kosher religious rules. In fact, he explained, the bulk of kosher buyers (62 per cent) cited food quality for their choice, while smaller but still significant proportions said “general healthfulness” (51 per cent) and food safety (34 per cent) drove their purchasing decisions.
Also of note, Rabkin highlighted that a full 10 per cent of kosher purchasers adhere to other religious restrictions similar to those kosher imposes. Halal followers in particular tend to purchase kosher products, although this choice doesn’t run both ways. According to Rabkin, many consumers picking kosher products for religious reasons tend to shy away from halal products due to their less stringent rules around cleaning procedures.
The innovation breakfast was held at the Pearson Convention Centre in Brampton, Ont. For information about the GFTC’s innovation breakfast series, visit http://www.gftc.ca/special-events/.