What led you to become a Kosher inspector ?
This is a very interesting question. I probably came to Kosher supervision from a different perspective and background than most Mashgichim (Kosher supervisors). I live in Toronto and I was originally involved in the business world. I owned and operated a large medical laboratory and a chain of pharmacies for thirty years. However, even though I was busy running my businesses, I was also interested in practical Halacha (Jewish law) and spent about half of every day learning about it. So, when Rabbi Jaffe approached me about joining MK as a Kosher inspector in 2017, I jumped at the opportunity to merge my two main interests, business and Halacha.
What does a Kosher inspector’s job involve?
My job is to ensure that our clients respect the rules of Kashrus – the Jewish dietary laws. My role is different than that of most Mashgichim, who are on-site Kosher supervisors and inspectors for specific companies. Instead, I am a travelling inspector: I am responsible for inspecting all of the MK-certified plants in Ontario and Western Canada several times a year. When a new client comes on board, I make an initial visit to their plant and write-up a report detailing what will be required in terms of Kosher certification and supervision. This report is reviewed and studied by Rabbi Jaffe, who is a world-renowned expert in Kashrus technology and is a fountain of information about Jewish law. He provides me with comments, raises any concerns and tells me how many times a year I must visit the plant. I then visit the plant again to conduct a thorough inspection and to document everything, which is critical, as every client is unique. If any issues arise with a client, I am fortunate to be able to rely on Rabbi Emanuel, who is a master of corporate diplomacy.
What exactly is a Kosher inspection?
A Kosher inspection allows us to determine whether or not food is being prepared according to the stringent Kashrus guidelines. By inspecting a plant, I can attest to the reliability of its adherence to Kosher standards. There are three significant factors to take into account in an inspection: the ingredients, the products and the procedure. The latter is very important, because, even if all of the ingredients that go into making a food are themselves Kosher, there are also very important laws governing the preparation of the food which, if not respected, render the product “non-Kosher.” That’s why, every time I visit a client, I check if they have made any modifications to their ingredients or manufacturing processes.
Kosher certification has tremendous rewards but also comes with significant responsibilities. There are enormous penalties for not respecting the terms of a certification contract. Building a relationship with my clients that is based on mutual trust and respect is therefore critical to my job as a Kosher inspector. When I enter a client’s premises, I must respect their rules and regulations and trust that they are telling me the truth. Fortunately, most people are honest and make every effort to comply. However, errors certainly can occur, and that it is why it is essential for me to ask lots of questions and to carefully review all of the information I am given. I am happy to say that I have friendly, professional and productive relationships with almost all of my clients.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?
COVID-19 has made plant inspections more complicated. I can’t just show up at a plant on any given workday unannounced anymore! However, because we have developed strong relationships with our clients based on trust, we have been allowed to safely conduct regular inspections throughout the pandemic. In fact, there are only two clients who have requested that their Kosher inspections be done virtually. If a plant absolutely must be sealed from outsiders for health and safety reasons, then we have to respect that decision. This is a whole new reality, and we are finding ways to adapt while still ensuring that Kashrus laws are 100% respected.
Every job has its perks and quirks. Do you have any funny stories to share?
One of the first times my job took me to Western Canada, I was asked to do an initial report on a new Kosher vodka produced in Saskatchewan. After I had reviewed the ingredients and process and completed the report, I started chatting with the team about their business. They knew I had lots of experience, having worked in the corporate world for years, so they asked me for advice about a business problem they had encountered. To thank me, they offered me a bottle of vodka. However, I explained that I don’t accept gifts from clients and that, on top of that, I couldn’t take the bottle on the plane with me, as I was flying with carry-on luggage. So, imagine my wife’s surprise when six bottles of vodka arrived on our doorstep unannounced, and she had no idea why! She was rather shocked and a bit suspicious about what I was really doing for MK! In the end, I felt guilty and donated the bottles to the Agudath Israel of Toronto for their weekly kiddush.
What is the most common misconception about Kosher inspections?
The most significant misconception in the Kashrus industry is that, by reading the ingredient list, we can decide whether a product is Kosher or not. I am often told: “What could be the problem? It’s just beans in a can!” The thing is, even if the ingredients in a product are 100% Kosher, the product can be 100% Treif (non-Kosher), due to how it’s made. Consider a plant in which all the kettles are connected to the boiler, and the same water circulates from kettle to kettle. Then, if this plant makes both Kosher and non-Kosher foods, there will be contamination. It would be like trying to cook a Kosher supper in a pot that is not Kosher!
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