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This article is supplemented by articles on buying kosher meat and fish. The author’s list of symbols of approved kashrut laboratories has been replaced with a hyperlink to a more up-to-date list, for which the author is not responsible. Reprinted with permission from How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, published by Simon & Schuster.
What we bring into our homes is as important as how we prepare it. Oddly enough, the more sophisticated and extensive the prepared-food industry becomes, the more cautious an Orthodox Jew must be about reading labels. Not only must we ascertain if a food is meat or dairy, but nowadays there are preservatives and additives used in almost every type of prepared food that is on the market. Some of these additives are made of dairy or meat or nonkosher by-products such as gelatin from a nonkosher animal.
A seemingly harmless little olive thrown casually into a salad could disqualify that salad for a meat meal: olives are often prepared with lactic acid, which makes them dairy, and therefore unusable with a meat meal; or shortening marked pure vegetable shortening can contain stearic acid, which is derived from nonkosher animals; or peanut butter, which might include a glyceride of nonkosher origin.
What is a Hechsher? What Are All Those Symbols?
So there is an art to buying kosher. The easiest way is to “let Chaim Yankel do it.” To save any hassle, some Jews will shop only in a store that sells kosher products exclusively. One doesn’t have to read fine-print labels; even the words meat, dairy, or parve are stamped in legible letters on all prepared foods.
The alternative is to buy in regular supermarkets but to check all prepared foods for the seal of rabbinic supervision. What it means is that there is a reliable independent supervisor (mashgiach), a person who is knowledgeable in laws of kashrut, who spends time at the plant overseeing the entire process, from receipt of the new foodstuffs to shipment of the finished products. There are a number of registered kashrut symbols to look for. Among them are [those listed at http://www.kashrut.com/agencies/].None of these symbols should be confused with ®, which does not mean Orthodox rabbis; it means registered trademark. For reliability of the above certifications, one should check with one’s own rabbi.
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