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The Working Mashgiach

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By: Rabbi Tsvi Heber, Director of Community Kosher

Monitoring the kosher program in a catering or restaurant environment is a difficult task. Caterers and restaurants use hundreds of ingredients from multiple vendors, with both, ingredients and vendors, subject to change on a moment’s notice. Deliveries of meat, poultry and fish must be verified as kosher upon delivery and supervised at all times thereafter. Fruits and vegetables with significant insect infestation must be cleaned and checked thoroughly. Bishul Akum is a challenge to control in an environment where the bulk of the cooking staff is gentile. Segregation between meat and fish or meat and dairy must be established and maintained. Eggs must be individually cracked and checked for bloodspots. The day is generally full of surprises and last minute kashrus requirements. Establishing a systematic process of supervision in such an environment is a relatively impossible task.

National kashrus organizations such as Orthodox Union (OU), Star-K of Baltimore, OK Laboratories of New York, Kof-K of New Jersey, CRC of Chicago and MK of Montreal, to name just a handful, along with many community kashrus organizations, have recognized the need for full-time supervision (hashgacha temidis) in this environment. Unfortunately, financial considerations will, quite often, substantiate a resistance to pay for the salary of a full time mashgiach whose involvement is limited to tasks of supervisory kashrus. Even when such a suggestion is financially considerable, full time supervision can rarely serve to occupy a mashgiach’s time constructively. To resolve this dilemma, these organizations have created and implemented the concept of the “working mashgiach”.

A working mashgiach is required to fulfill a dual mandate. A working mashgiach is a fully trained mashgiach whose job always includes performing all of the aforementioned hashgacha duties throughout the day. As well, he will be expected to assist in various aspects of the daily operations of a foodservice establishment. He may fill the role of manager, maintaining physical control of the establishment and ensuring that the kitchen is functioning properly. He may be in charge of procuring ingredients and controlling inventory. He may be a trained chef working with the food and menu development. He may act as a maitre d’. Finally, he may fill the role of general kitchen help for in-kitchen tasks that are not janitorial in nature.

A paradoxical perspective of this dual responsibility is generally unjustified. On the contrary, it allows the mashgiach to understand the nature of the operation from an insider’s standpoint. Keeping this in mind, it is important that both the kashrus organization and the proprietor of the establishment understand and respect that the working mashgiach is an employee of and ultimately responsible to the kashrus organization, regardless of whether his salary is paid by the kashrus organization or the establishment. The proprietor of the establishment must understand that the tasks assigned to the mashgiach must be consistent with his level of authority and stature.

The working mashgiach structure works because it satisfies the need for hashgacha temidis while alleviating the establishment’s need to hire an additional employee for the task that he is performing. This ensures that the concept of hashgacha temidis remains economical.

Kashruth Council of Canada has recently instituted the policy of working mashgiach for all of its caterers’ commissaries. The effectiveness of this structure on the kashrus program has been significant for those caterers who have already made the changeover.

"Zuchter Berk Creative Caterers was one of the first caterers in Toronto to make the transition to working mashgiach,” says Rabbi Yitzchok Drookman of Zuchter Berk. “Since that time, we have instituted a working mashgiach in each one of our locations across the city. This arrangement has worked out exceptionally well as we are assured that our kashrus program is running smoothly at all times. Ever since the unfortunate kashrus infringement in Monsey last year, the consumer has grown to expect more from kashrus supervision programs. At Zuchter Berk, we work hard to meet those expectations."

Mr. Kalman Lowenthal of Jacob’s Catering has the following words to say about his recent changeover. "As someone who has been in the kosher catering business for over thirty years and has seen it develop, the working mashgiach concept has been an added bonus. The level of kashrus that we have always lived up to in the past has, with this new step, brought our standards even higher. Especially in these times of change it is important for us and our clients to know that we have someone constantly overseeing every aspect of the kashrus so that they can enjoy their simcha even more."

We wish to take this opportunity to thank the many caterers who have worked together with us to enable this changeover to be smooth and beneficial. We expect to have the remaining few caterers changed over within the next few months. At that time, our policy will be consistent across our full line of caterers.

Working mashgiach is currently an option for the restaurant hashgacha program, as well. A full description of our policy for restaurants will appear in the next publication of the Kosher CORner.

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