keeping it kosher

Kosher certification agencies go virtual

Many inspections continuing — with some modifications — despite travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders

As the coronavirus interrupts global and domestic travel, kosher certification agencies are working within the new constraints to ensure inspections around the world continue when possible.

Meeting of the minds: Several major certification agencies, including OK Kosher, the Orthodox Union, the Chicago Rabbinic Council and Kof-K met last month to discuss plans to continue inspections amid stay-at-home orders and global travel restrictions. 

Global presence: Major kosher organizations are taking advantage of their global networks of representatives to ensure that inspections can continue, even in countries with strict travel restrictions in place that would prevent inspectors from traveling from abroad. Rabbi Eli Lando, executive manager of OK Kosher, told Jewish Insider that the agency is working to minimize travel, especially on public transportation, and has put in place a policy prohibiting employees exposed to individuals with COVID-19 from visiting facilities. Additional safeguards include requiring inspectors to have their temperatures checked regularly and mandating that inspectors maintain high hygienic standards in accordance with guidance from medical professionals.

Shelter-in-place: Some of OK Kosher’s rabbis in industries that require the highest level of supervision, such as cheese production, have essentially quarantined themselves within the production facilities to ensure they can continue constant supervision, according to Lando.

Using technology: Lando and Rabbi Menachem Genack, the CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division, said both of their organizations — as well as many of those at the meeting — are implementing new virtual inspection procedures in some cases, particularly for previously certified businesses requiring recurring inspections. In these cases, representatives at the company who generally work with the inspectors will use video or FaceTime to allow them to inspect the plants remotely, Genack said. Lando told JI that OK Kosher is attempting to continue on-site visits when possible.

Other strategies: Lando said many of the businesses OK Kosher supervises are up to date with their regular unannounced inspections for March, reducing the immediate issues the agency faces. In addition to virtual inspections, the company is employing strategies like asking its customers to sign affidavits.

New certifications: New applicants for certification generally require a higher level of inspection than previously certified businesses, but OK Kosher is proceeding with new certifications to the extent possible, Lando said. The agency is relying more on its field representatives, rather than rabbinic coordinators, and asking businesses to submit footage and recordings — which had not been previously required.

Reassuring consumers: The certification agencies are being careful to ensure that the companies they inspect remain up to standards. “We’re very careful in terms of halacha — Jewish law — and in terms of the systems that we’ve set up, so those are very much intact,” Genack said. Lando concurred: “We are on top of all of our companies to ensure full compliance.”

Empire Kosher: In a possible blow to the kosher supply chain, Empire Kosher closed its chicken processing plant in Pennsylvania on Thursday after two employees tested positive for COVID-19. Despite the shutdown, Genack told Crain’s New York that chickens should remain available for Passover next week. The plant is expected to reopen on April 13 following sanitization.

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