1

The Pesach Sleuth

Photo by Matus Laco from FreeImages

Imagine walking into a factory, noticing the ceiling, 25 feet overhead, lined with rows upon rows of similar-looking pipes. “How am I possibly supposed to know what goes through these pipes? How can I possibly check if they have been cleaned properly, and how can I possibly kasher them?”

When we purchase products for Pesach, we look for a hechsher that we respect, and we rely on that hechsher to make sure everything is done properly. Fortunately, an experienced mashgiach will know how to trace all those pipes and figure out what each one contains, although it will take him time to do so. Yet, most of us do not know what it is like to be in a factory that is supervising a Pesach-dik production run, nor do we know what it is like to be checking a factory to see if it is maintaining its kashrus program. We also don’t really know why one hechsher is acceptable and another is not. Most people apply the “What do the neighbors use?” system, or, more accurately, “What does the chevrah use?” or “Do bnei Torah eat from that hechsher?” approach. Although one article cannot answer most of these questions, it can provide some direction and background.

Pesach-dik ketchup

Let me begin with a typical kosher-for-Pesach story. Ketchup, a common North American household product that, in some households, is an irreplaceable staple, is a relatively simple product containing tomato paste, water, corn sweetener, vinegar, salt, spices and flavoring. Several of these ingredients require replacement for a Pesach-dik product. Corn sweetener is kitniyos, and would require replacing, probably with a kosher-lePesach sugar made from either cane or beets. Pure spices ground for industrial use should be fine, but spice extracts or oleoresins will require more research. The water should not present any problem, and the tomato paste and salt used for commercial production should also be fine, but it always pays for the hechsher to double check the manufacturer.

Both the vinegar and the flavoring could contain chometz, and almost certainly contain kitniyos if they did not come from a specially-made Pesach run. Let us see how these sensitive ingredients will be handled:

Vinegar

Regular vinegar, usually called white vinegar, is manufactured from alcohol processed with yeast, vinegar food, and perhaps other raw materials, until the alcohol turns to vinegar. Every one of these ingredients can involve a potential chometz issue: Alcohol is commonly produced from grain. Vinegar food may alsoinclude chometz ingredients. Kosher lePesach vinegar would require that the alcohol, the yeast and the vinegar food all be specially made from a non-chometz, non-kitniyos source. Assuming that the hechsher certifying the production of the ketchup is not the one that certified the vinegar, the rabbonim or poskim of the hechsher on the ketchup will decide which hechsher for Pesach-dik vinegar they will accept.

In theory, kosher lePesach vinegar could be  produced in a much easier way with virtually no halachic complications. Chemically, white vinegar is a solution of acetic acid and water. Pure acetic acid can be produced synthetically, and, therefore, a product identical to vinegar can be produced by simply mixing glacial acetic acid and water, which would be a very easy item to produce, simple to supervise ,and less expensive than kosher-lePesach vinegar.

So why not?

If it is much easier to produce kosher-lePesach vinegar this way, why is it not done? The answer is that it is illegal in the United States to call this product “vinegar,” notwithstanding that it is perfectly safe to use and will accomplish whatever the “vinegar” in your product will. In the United States, this ingredient must be labeled as “diluted glacial acetic acid” or something similar, and companies are concerned that customers will not purchase a product with this ingredient listed on the label.

Vinegar in the United States must be produced by the fermentation of alcohol, and the alcohol used for this production must also be fermented and distilled from sugars or starches. Nevertheless, there are many countries of the world where it is perfectly legal to use synthetically produced vinegar in food production and to label it as “vinegar.”

Flavoring

Ketchup requires the addition of herbs, spices or flavoring. The size of flavor-producing companies varies in as great a range as you can imagine. I have seen flavor companies that are quite literally mom-and-pop shops, and I have also been inside flavor factories the size of a small city. Some flavor companies manage without any major sophisticated equipment, whereas others own hundreds of production machines that each cost in the millions of dollars.

Spray towers

Here is a very practical example: Many products are dried today in a massive piece of equipment called a spray dryer or spray tower. The purpose of this piece of equipment, usually about the height of a three-story building, is to convert a liquid product into a powder. It does so by pumping the liquid until it is dropped through the top of the spray tower. In the tower, which is usually gas-fired, very hot air, usually about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, is forced along the inside walls of the tower, and the liquid product is dropped through the middle. The temperature is hot enough so that all the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a powder that drops to the bottom of the spray tower, where it is boxed or bagged.

Many thousands of spray towers are used in the United States alone. Possibly the most frequent use is to powder skim milk, which is highly perishable, into nonfat dry milk, which occupies a fraction of the space of the liquid product, and, if kept dry, has an indefinite shelf life without any refrigeration, thus making it very easy to store and ship.

Assuming that this spray tower is used only for milk, the major question that will occur is how to kasher it for a cholov Yisroel production. There are many halachic issues here, including that a spray tower physically cannot be filled with water and brought to a boil, which constitutes hag’alah, the most common way of kashering. Furthermore, it is unlikely that this method suffices to kasher the tower, since the absorption into the walls of the spray tower is without liquid.

Another option is to kasher the tower by use of a flame thrower, basically a larger form of a blow torch.

On the other hand, there are halachic authorities who contend that the spray dryer does not even require kashering, since the product is not supposed to touch its walls. Because of the tremendous heat that absorbs into the stainless steel walls of the dryer, product that touches them burns, and will probably pass distaste, nosein taam lifgam, into the final product. Some of these last-quoted authorities contend that a spray tower does not require kashering.

There are also companies that have contract spray-dry equipment. This means that the spray tower is not constantly in use for their product,and, not wanting to leave a very expensive piece of equipment idle,  they will spray dry other products during the “down” time, when they are not producing their own products. For example, I have seen wine powder, powdered meat extract, medicinal items, and even blood, spray dried on equipment that was also at times used for kosher supervised products.

At this point, let us return to our special kosher-for-Pesach ketchup production. A flavor whose components were spray dried, which is a fairly common procedure, would require researching what else was produced on this spray dryer, or attempting to kasher the spray dryer. All of these complicate the research involved in producing our kosher-lePesach ketchup.

To resolve all these potential complications, the flavors used for the production of this kosher-lePesach ketchup were ordered from a small manufacturer. The order was to use only pure essential oils that would be extracted by pressure — in other words, oil that is squeezed out of the spice source in what is called a “cold press” operation and without any extracting aids. Many essential oils are extracted using alcohols such as ethanol or glycerin, which could compromise the kashrus of the product.

Of course, a knowledgeable field representative was dispatched to oversee that the flavor company indeed followed the instructions and used only cold press essential oils.  The flavor company blended together these liquid oils and then added a significant amount of salt to the product. The reason for the addition of the salt was to dry out the finished spice so that it could be easily shipped and stored. From a kashrus perspective, this was certainly a far better alternative to using a spray-dried product and kashering the spray dryer.

Now our hechsher has successfully located all the ingredients and overseen the production of all the raw materials for the kosher-lePesach ketchup. The next step is to send a knowledgeable mashgiach to the production facility where the ketchup is to be manufactured, to ascertain how that equipment will be kashered prior to the Pesach run, and to clarify with the company its production schedule prior to the dates when the equipment will be kashered and the Pesach product manufactured. He also needs to check whether other products are being made in the facility, or a nearby facility, that uses the same heating system to produce chometz products.

And this is for a relatively simple product.

Having shown how a relatively simple Pesach-dik product is made, I will shift from the simple to what is possibly the most complicated: the kashering of hotels for Pesach, which has become a colossal international business. A glance at any frum newspaper includes advertisements marketing opportunities to spend Pesach on any continent, always only with non-gebrochtz, shemurah matzos, cholov Yisroel, and glatt kosher, under a rav’s strict supervision, with several prominent English speakers as scholars-in-residence, babysitting provided during the lectures, and many sightseeing activities available for Chol Hamo’eid. Yet, individuals interested in experiencing Yom Tov this way should be aware that kashering a hotel for Pesach is a mammoth and difficult process. It is even more difficult to do when the entire hotel is not being kashered for Pesach, when the hotel’s regular kitchen staff are used, or when the chef and sous-chefs are not halachically observant themselves.

By the way, travel tours create the most difficult issues regarding kashrus supervision. Many hechsherim will simply not supervise them because of the complications involved with traveling to different places and using products that are available locally. These issues become even more complicated when it comes to Pesach supervision.

Aside from the many nightmares I have heard regarding Pesach hotel hechsherim, I will share with you just one nightmare story of which I have firsthand knowledge. At one point in my career, I was in charge of the hechsherim in an area that encompassed a well-known tourist area. Simply put, if anything was supervised kosher in our area, I knew about it. There indeed were several reliably kosher tours, some of whom used our kashrus organization to supervise their activities and some who did not, but, it seemed to me, still maintained a fairly respectable kashrus standard.

Once, I saw an advertisement in the Anglo-Jewish press for a “glatt kosher tour” through our area. Since none of the tour companies with which I was familiar was involved, I called the number listed for reservations and inquired who was overseeing their kashrus in the area. The woman who answered the phone dutifully notified me that “Jim Klein oversees all food production and kashrus arrangements in that area.” I knew Jim well. Not only was he completely non-observant – he was married to a non-Jewish woman! Yet, the tour was advertized as glatt kosher, chassidisha shechitah. I have no idea if it was chassidisha shechitah, but it was certainly not glatt kosher, and halachically was not kosher at all!

For sure, we know not to use anything “supervised” by Jim. Can we eat something supervised by Yossel? The answer is that we rely on a hechsher that uses yir’ei shamayim personnel who are knowledgeable both in halacha and in the technical aspects of modern kashrus. Particularly, when we decide which Pesach products we allow into our home to enhance our simchas Yom Tov, we use only hechsherim that impress us with their expertise and their concern about the important role they play in our lives.




Glycerin in Today’s World

Photo by Artem Zhushman from FreeImages

Question
#1:

“In
what types of food products is glycerin used?”

Question
#2:

“Is
glycerin kosher?”

Question
#3:

“What
is the difference between glycerin, glycerine, and glycerol?”

Question
#4:

“The other day, I was using some vanilla extract in a recipe and noticed that the extract itself had a sweet taste. I know that vanilla is usually extracted with alcohol, but this particular product was labeled “alcohol-free,” and apparently used glycerin instead.I am curious about the nutritional properties of glycerin. Does it affect the body like sugar? Is it calorie-free?”

Introduction:

Glycerin comes from fats
(either animal, vegetable or mineral) and originally was a by-product of soap or
candle manufacture. The process of producing soap has not changed significantly
since it was first discovered thousands of years ago. The method is very
similar to that described by the halachic authorities, who refer to a
process of cooking fat and ashes together. Today, we call these ashes lye,
and it usually consists predominantly of sodium hydroxide or potassium
hydroxide, both alkalis. Cooking these together with fat creates a chemical
reaction called saponification, from the Latin
word sapo, meaning soap. The process converts the fat and alkali
into soap and an alcohol such as glycerin. The glycerin splits off from the
fatty acids and mixes together with water, forming an odorless, sweet-tasting,
syrup-like liquid.

Glycerin is also created naturally in the process of
manufacturing some alcoholic beverages. It can also be produced chemically from
petroleum, but, in the United States, glycerin from petroleum is not
generally used in food.

Properties of glycerin

Glycerin, sometimes spelled glycerine, and sometimes
called glycerol, has a number of interesting properties. Mixing glycerin
with nitric acid creates nitroglycerine, which can be used to treat chest pain
or to blow up mountains or enemies. Glycerin attracts water like a sponge,
making it useful for skin care, since adding it to a lotion or cosmetic will
help your skin remain moist. It is also commonly added to soaps, candles,
deodorants and makeup. You might find glycerin in toothpaste, which will help
prevent drying out or hardening in the tube.

Glycerin is a common ingredient in
pharmaceuticals, including heart medication, suppositories, cough remedies and
anesthetics. For example, it allows the medicinal agent in the cough syrup to
coat the throat of the patient. Since glycerin is water based, it is very
useful for this application. In addition, glycerin’s sweetness may mask the
distaste of the anti-cough agent, thus making the syrup smoother and tastier.
Mixed into wax and used as a suppository, glycerin’s moisture-attracting
properties draws water from the body into the colon, which stimulates a bowel
movement.

Athletics and glycerin

Athletes run a constant concern about
dehydration, and drinking large quantities of water or sports drinks usually
results in quickly losing a sizable portion of the fluid through urination. One
still-being-researched suggestion is to add a tiny amount of glycerin to water
drunk before exercise. Some contend that this increases fluid retention
considerably.

Food uses of glycerin

Since glycerin absorbs moisture, it may keep a product
moist for a longer period of time. Thus, it is useful as a safe preservative,
and, has a marketing advantage that it does not to be listed as a preservative.
Used in a product like a cereal bar, glycerin helps it avoid becoming hard and
brittle. When used to coat raisins, glycerin keeps them from sticking to one
another. Since glycerin has a syrupy texture, it may be used in a glaze or as a
thickener. Since it coats the throat, it is sometimes used as an ingredient in
whiskeys.

Glycerin is often added to foods to help
oil-based and water-based ingredients mix. It can be used to prevent ice
crystals from forming in frozen foods, such as frozen yogurt,
ice cream and other desserts.

Is glycerin used as a sweetener?

Who would expect that a processed derivative of oils or
fats would be sweet? Glycerin’s sweetness is one of the great, low-key gifts
that Hashem bestows on us. Because it is sweet, baked goods, confections, and
pharmaceuticals sometimes have glycerin incorporated into their formulas.
However, glycerin, unlike sugar, is not a classic carbohydrate. For this
reason, companies eager to make low-carb claims use glycerin, sometimes as a
substitute for sugar, but it also has many other valuable properties.

Glycerin
belongs to a special category of carbohydrates called polyols. A polyol is
an organic compound containing multiple hydroxyl groups, meaning that its
chemical description includes an OH, because it contains an oxygen atom bonded
to a hydrogen atom. Polyols are low-calorie sugar replacers with a
clean, sweet taste and are approved for food. Among the polyols that we eat
are: erythritol, hydrogenated starch, hydrolysates,
isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol.
Erythritol, chemical formulaC4H10O4,
for example, is a sugar alcohol that is considered safe as a food
additive in the United States and throughout much of the world. It was
discovered in 1848 by Scottish chemist John Stenhouse, and was first isolated
in 1852. It occurs naturally in some fruits. When used to replace
sugar, polyols cause smaller increases
in blood glucose and insulin levels than do sugars and
other carbohydrates. Therefore, snacks sweetened with polyols may be useful.

Like sugar alcohols, glycerin tastes sweet, but it is not
metabolized as sugar in the body, and doesn’t cause a rise in blood sugar. For
that reason, it is sometimes used as a sweetener in foods marketed to diabetics
and low-carb dieters.

Kashrus of glycerin

Glycerin is perhaps the most kosher-sensitive ingredient
that any company can have. There is no way to test chemically whether the
glycerin is manufactured from an animal, vegetable or mineral source, and
non-kosher glycerin produced from animal fat is plentiful and often less
expensive than are the other varieties. To compound the problem, as bio-diesel
and other processes using vegetable oil have increased, less vegetable oil is
available for the production of glycerin and this is being replaced by
increasing the amount of animal fat used to manufacture glycerin.

Kosher glycerin is generally
derived from vegetable oil, although it can also be chemically synthesized from
petroleum. It is claimed that vegetable glycerin was originally discovered
accidentally more than two centuries ago, by heating a mixture of olive oil and
lead monoxide. But it became economically and industrially significant only in
the late 1800s, when it was first used to make dynamite. Until that point, all
glycerin was manufactured from animal fat.

Much of the kosher,
vegetable-based glycerin is made from
triglyceride-rich vegetable fats, such as palm, soy or coconut oil,
and usually comes from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia that have an
abundance of coconut and palm trees, although some kosher vegetable glycerin is
made in the United States. Supervisors of kosher glycerin production need to
oversee that the equipment used to produce it and the trucks and ships used to
ship it in bulk are used only for kosher product or are koshered before use.

As with almost any
substance, a small number of people have sensitivities or allergies
to glycerin, and it can be toxic, if consumed in sufficient
quantities. But, in its typical food uses, predominantly as a safe method of
keeping foods fresh or as a low-glycemic sweetener, glycerin is
generally safe. It is not, however, calorie-free.

This entire preamble was to provide background to an event
that happened when I made a random kosher inspection of a factory several years
ago. The company, which we will call Quality Bakery Products, was a
manufacturer of wholesale products for the bakery and dairy industries, such as
fruit mixes and toppings, glazes, maraschino cherries, fudges, etc. Thus, the
fruit flavors in your yogurt, the fudge on your cookies, the fruit mixes in
your fruit cakes may have originated in this factory. They did not produce
retail sizes; everything was packed only in gallons, tubs and drums.

On that particular visit, I discovered a partially used
drum of glycerin, without kosher markings. Glycerin was not a product that the
company ordinarily used in their products and was not listed as an approved raw
material by the hechsher. I was fairly certain that this glycerin was
from non-kosher animal sources, and indeed, a small amount of research proved
that I was correct. Since glycerin has a sweet taste and was certainly not bateil,
the product or products manufactured with this glycerin were unquestionably
treif
.

Why did the company order glycerin? In what was it used?
And where was it sent?

Within a short period of time, I was able to unravel what
had happened. A new customer, a donut manufacturer that we will call “Diamond
Donuts,” contacted Quality Bakery with a large order for a donut glaze. Diamond
Donuts had very specific requirements for the glaze – including glycerin as an
ingredient. Presumably, Diamond Donut wanted glycerin in its glaze because it
is sweet, syrupy and keeps the donuts fresher without any requirement to
mention the nasty word “preservatives” on the label.

The sales staff accepted the order, the manufacturing
department placed it on the schedule, sending on to the purchasing department
the ingredient requirements that were not in house. The glycerin was ordered.
No one at Quality Bakery picked up on several obvious errors they had made. For
example, they were required by contract to contact the hechsher before
purchasing new raw materials or changing suppliers, and glycerin was not an
ingredient listed on their approved list.

The distributor through whom they ordered the glycerin sent
them the least expensive product he had in stock, which happened to have been
animal-derived glycerin. The ingredient was used, an entire container of drums
of glaze was produced and was on the highway to Diamond Donuts by the time I
discovered the problem. I was able to contact the rabbis at both hechsherim,
Quality Bakery and Diamond, and the mashgiach who handled Diamond
Donuts, to alert them that the glaze marked kosher was indeed very treif.
The glaze and the leftover drum of glycerin were both destroyed, and many, many
neshamos were fortunately saved from mistakenly eating treif donuts.

What is the moral of the story? For one, that hechsherim
should have tighter controls on their companies. There should be a system
in place so that new raw materials are not used without having the mashgiach
sign off that they have been checked for kashrus concerns, just as these
materials are checked for safety and efficacy.

For another, they should make sure that all key personnel
at their companies fully understand the reasons for, and the details of, their
kosher program. Included in the granting of the hechsher should be a
periodic, scheduled meeting with all decision-making plant personnel, including
the plant manager, production managers, purchasing agents, and the quality
assurance staff, to guarantee that they all understand the responsibilities of
a kashrus program.

And that we should all daven daily that we do not
eat anything non-kosher.