By Doug Vargo
Another sometimes confusing topic that gets dairy manufacturers befuddled is the subject of rabbinical supervision and how to go about getting their dairy product approved kosher. This mainly depends upon what kosher jurisdiction or rabbinical symbol is desired for their plant’s marketing area. There are many kosher symbols that are approved for placing on foods to deem them as “kosher”. Among them are circle U (a U with a circle around it), Tri-K (a triangle with a k inside), Kosher Overseers of America (KOA), kashrut K (just a plan capital K) or circle K. What symbol you use, and what Rabbinic society or jurisdiction you contact for the rabbinical supervision and symbol to be placed on your dairy product depends upon your plant location and what markets you are going to distribute your products in.
Circle K is used on the East coast in the New York City area and is the most recognized kosher symbol used there. In fact, their website at oukosher.org claims to have up to 70% of all the kosher certified food business. They state that $150 Billion worth of Kosher certified foods are consumed each year. You would need to have the circle U symbol placed or used on your dairy product packaging if you intend to sell or distribute dairy products on the East Coast and more specifically the New York City market since that is the symbol of choice there.
On the circle U website, they state that there are 4 steps to receiving kosher certification:
- List the ingredients that will go into the kosher food. This is called schedule A and the ingredients are checked with a database of over 200,000 food ingredients in the database.
- Establish the list of brand names and products that the kosher food will bear the kosher symbol and be sold as. This is called schedule B.
- A Rabbinic Field Representative (RFR) is assigned to your plant. He determines the feasibility of kosher certification at your plant. If kosher and well as non-kosher products are to be made and packaged at the same plant, he establishes any special instructions for the use of equipment that is used during processing. Most of us refer to this as “kosherizing” the equipment. Oftentimes equipment is “kosherized” first and the kosher dairy food is processed first before the regular production begins. The RFR helps guide you in the process and also presents your application to the Rabbinic Coordinator (RC).
- The RC will review your application and RFR inspection report to determine if your plant can make kosher foods and receive certification. He will handle your account and acts as a resource to help you through the certification process. Once you are certified, you can go to their website to get updated letters of certification for your ingredient or food by putting in the assigned UKD (universal kosher dairy) number of the product or ingredient.
The same holds true in the Midwest where the Tri K symbol is the one mostly accepted by the consumers there. Kashrut or “k” or kosher in general is a more universally accepted kosher symbol and may not be limited to a certain area or region of the country.
The bottom line for kosher certification is:
- Check your intended marketing area and what symbol you would need to market products in that area that is the most accepted in that area. Certain kosher symbols may not be accepted in certain regions. For example, circle U tends to be stricter as far as certification, and products marketed in the New York City area may not accept regular “k” certified products or “tri-K” certified products.
- Contact the proper rabbinical council or kosher certifier for that marketing area and make sure you follow the procedures to “kosherize” your dairy product so that it qualifies to bear that kosher symbol (following many of the steps listed above). This may mean “on site” supervision by a Rabbi, either for the first time, during other periods of the year (such as Kosher for Passover), or continuously during the year. They will work with you to make sure you meet all of their requirements. Some symbols may be given out with no supervision at all as long as all of the paperwork or documentation is in place.
- Get the paperwork renewed or complete the “re-certification process” yearly so that you can keep using whatever kosher symbol is used in your marketing area.
It may seem like a tedious process with many rules, but the website claims that kosher foods usually outsell non- kosher foods by 20% because they represent a certain quality in the marketplace. Each plant should carefully consider whether they should produce and market kosher foods based on the sales potential in their geographical marketing area.