Making Kosher Food Is an All-Night Affair

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Earlier this week, Sue Fishkoff wrote about watching a goat slaughtered and people who only keep kosher on holidays. She is the author of Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority
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The most fascinating work of kosher food manufacturing takes place in the middle of the night. That’s when factories shut down their lines for koshering, when ovens are blasted with blowtorches and boiling water is run through miles of pipes and in and out of huge stainless steel vats.

That’s when the mashgiachs, or kosher supervisors, start work in industrial kitchens and banquet halls, cleaning bugs from pounds of lettuce, celery and other fresh produce.

And that’s when the flour for Manischewitz kosher-for-Passover matzah begins its journey from western Pennsylvania to the company’s $15 million manufacturing facility in Newark, NJ.

Matzah is important to Manischewitz. The 120-year-old company makes a wide range of kosher products, but it was founded in 1888 to produce kosher for Passover matzah on a new assembly line format, and matzah is still central to its mission. Like most ethnic kosher food manufacturers, Manischewitz’s busiest season is Passover. Fifty percent of its business involves kosher-for-Passover food. According to one survey, 24 percent of American non-Jewish consumers bought a Manischewitz product during the previous year; most of them bought matzah.

Passover matzah is the most labor-intensive kosher product in the world. As one of two sacramental foods required at the seder table, along with wine, its production is carefully controlled to ensure that water only comes into contact with the flour for less than 18 minutes. Longer than that and, according to rabbinic authorities, leavening might begin. That would mean it cannot be eaten at all during the eight-day Passover holiday.

In industrial production, the flour must be watched by a mashgiach from the time the wheat is milled until water is introduced to the flour during the mixing process. At that point the dough remains under even closer supervision to make sure it is completely baked in less than 18 minutes.

Posted on November 5, 2010

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