The Kosher Formula

The Jewish people, the am hanifchar, the chosen people, have been faithful to the Torah’s commandments for thousands of years. Of those commandments, Kashrus has served as an anchor of the Jew to his G-d, ensuring that even in the most mundane of life’s requirements, one is always cognizant of the source of one’s subsistence. Our Rabbis also teach us that there is a mystical relationship between the foods we eat and our spiritual well being.

The Kosher creed manifests itself from the time a child enters this world. From birth, we are concerned with starting the child off properly in his or her spiritual well being. The first practical opportunity we have, is to ensure that the child eats Kosher food. Even a small infant may not be fed non-Kosher milk. Our Rabbis teach us that if the mother, because of her health condition, was permitted to eat non-Kosher food, she should not nurse her child during that time because the child will be nourished from milk which was nourished from non-Kosher sources. We clearly see that we have the responsibility of effecting the developing ruchnius, spirituality, of the next generation.

While the mother’s milk is acknowledged to be the ideal food for infants, it is often necessary to either supplement or replace mother’s milk with a commercially prepared infant formula. Indeed, hospitals often begin feeding formula to infants soon after birth, especially in cases where the mother is not up to nursing immediately. There are a number of Kashrus issues that must be taken into account when choosing such a formula. It is critical to be aware of the various commercial products on the market and to make your preferences known to the hospital as soon as possible.

Baby Formula – Since infant formula is designed to emulate mother’s milk, it must contain a source of fat, protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, sugar, and other micro nutrients. Many of these ingredients can be obtained from non-Kosher sources, therefore, it is important for the newborn’s mother to insist on a formula which has been certified Kosher.

What are some Kashrus concerns? Fatty acids that are ideal for infant nutrition may be of animal origin. Vitamins may come from non-Kosher fish or from animal organs. Micro nutrients can be derived from an array of non-Kosher sources. All may be found in infant formula.

“Reading the label” is a very inadequate means of ascertaining the Kosher status of an infant formula, since potentially non-Kosher ingredients may be listed in a seemingly innocuous manner. For example, beef fat is commonly referred to as “oleo,” and “natural vitamins” may be obtained from non-Kosher fish oil. The same care that is routinely exercised in choosing Kosher adult foods must be used in choosing the foods for our children. Commercial infant formulas in the United States can be divided into two categories – dairy based and soy based. Dairy based products use milk, casein, and/or whey for the protein constituent, and lactose as sugar. Soy based formulas use Pareve ingredients, soy protein and dextrose or sucrose as sweetening agents. However, soy based formulas may be certified Kosher Dairy because of their processing equipment. Although manufacturers of these products are fastidious in their cleaning procedures, cleaning alone my not be sufficient to be considered true Kosherization to allow Pareve designation. Be assured, however, that all soy based products contain absolutely no milk derivatives whatsoever.

The distinction between milk and soy based products is important because many infants have difficulty in digesting dairy based components, and do much better on soy based versions. In some cases, infants are allergic to milk protein, and non-dairy soy based products are essential.

Furthermore, soy based products are important for the growing population of families keeping Cholov Yisroel. [Please note that Ross Laboratories, in association with J&J Dairies, does indeed manufacture a Cholov Yisroel version of Similac, which has a limited distribution in the New York area.] Soy based formulas contain no dairy component whatsoever, and those which are certified Kosher Pareve are manufactured on equipment which is Kosherized between Dairy and Pareve productions.

For certain babies, however, none of the standard formulas are appropriate. Many times an infant is incapable of digesting regular formula and requires formula whose protein has been partially or completely hydrolyzed. Complete hydrolysis means that the protein is broken into its component units to make it more digestible. That makes the formula hypo-allergenic. Specialized formulas, such as Nutramigen and Allimentum are hypo-allergenic. Good Start is a partially hydrolyzed formula and is not hypo-allergenic. Unfortunately, none of these products can bear Kosher certification due to the fact that the enzymes used to hydrolyze the milk proteins are not Kosher. However, although they may not be batel b’shishim in the initial mixture, they are nevertheless batel b’rov at that point and are nosen taam lifgam, and are batel b’shishim in the final mixture. As such, the use of these products may be Halachically appropriate in certain cases. A competent Rabbinic authority should be consulted when they are recommended by a pediatrician.

Currently, there are four major companies producing infant formula in the United States. Of these, three produce various products under OU certification. The fourth manufacturer currently uses a fat base made from tallow (beef fat) referred to as “oleo” in the ingredient declaration. Clearly, these formulas, whether dairy or soy based, are not Kosher. Even the vegetable fat based formulas made on the same equipment must also be considered non-Kosher, so it is critical that the formula being used bear a Hechsher.

Baby Cereals – When a baby graduates to solid food, new Kosher issues come into play. Often, a baby’s first solid food is cereal. While rice, barley, oats, or farina themselves may be innocuous from a Kosher perspective, the manner in which these baby cereals are produced gives rise to Kashrus concerns.

Baby cereals are typically cooked into paste, dried on large heated drums, and sifted into fine cereal flakes. Typically, many other products are made in the same plant. The Kashrus concerns that have to be answered are: Are other products produced on the same equipment? Is the steam used in the process recycled between Kosher and non-Kosher productions. More advanced cereals contain fruit and flavoring. Are they certified Kosher? A Kosher certification of these products ensures that these issues have been addressed and have been properly resolved. Although powdered baby cereal looks similar to adult instant oatmeal, they both undergo a completely different processes. Instant oatmeal is not precooked, but rather cut into small particles, unlike baby cereal which is cooked, dried, andflaked. Therefore, mixing oatmeal with boiling water on Shabbos would pose a problem of bishul (cooking) because the oatmeal has never been cooked. Since, baby cereal is first cooked and then dried, mixing baby cereal with hot water (off the fire) would be permissible on shabbos because of the concept of ain bishu acher bishul, once a food has been cooked, it cannot be “cooked” again.

However, this is not the only Shabbos concern we have when making instant baby cereal. Whether one uses hot or cold water when mixing baby cereal on Shabbos, it is important to mix in a way that does not violate the Shabbos. It is forbidden to mix cereal in a usual manner. This is known as the Malacha (work) of lush (kneading). On Shabbos one is permitted to mix baby cereal by adding in the opposite order than one does during the week. For example, if one normally puts the baby cereal in a bowl and then adds water, on Shabbos the powder should be added after the water, bilisan raka. In addition, the combined ingredients should be mixed with a shinui, in a different manner than one mixes during the week (e.g. mixing with a criss-cross motion using the back handle of a spoon).

If possible, one should not precisely measure an exact amount of powder on Shabbos, but rather, approximate when filling the measuring scoop.

Fruit juice productions have to address the issues of grape juice or grape juice blends produced on common equipment with regular juices. In addition, it is important to determine the sources of the fruit juices, since much of the fruit juice concentrates used for production are imported. Jarred baby foods pose additional problems. Typically, a company will produce a full line of jarred products – fruits, vegetables, desserts, and meats. While the first three may be inherently Kosher, many of the products contain dairy components which would compromise any potential Pareve certification of the fruits, vegetables, and desserts. Non-Kosher meat production on the same equipment can create great Kashrus challenges, and can compromise the Kashrus of the entire facility.

Kosher certification of a jarring facility requires that in addition to verifying that all ingredients used in certified products are Kosher, all equipment used to prepare, cook these foods, and fill the baby food into jars is appropriately Kosherized after non-Kosher, or between Pareve and Dairy productions.

To complicate matters further, after filling, the jars must be sterilized in a large pressure cooker, called a retort. While there are a number of different retort systems, their common purpose is to sterilize the contents of those containers and enable the product to be stored for long periods without refrigeration. If Kosher and non-Kosher, or Dairy and Pareve items are processed in the same retorts, then the retort baskets and liners must be Kosherized between productions. Obviously, scheduling such Kasherings in a busy plant is quite a task. Consequently, it is possible that identical products can be certified Kosher and others not. Even if the ingredients in the non-certified product pose no Kashrus problem, the logistics involved in their production may preclude a certification, without having full time supervision, a Mashgiach Temidi on staff for all productions. It goes without saying that Kosher meat and poultry baby foods, which have limited Kosher productions and very limited distribution, require full-time supervision for all production.

Hashem has blessed us with the privilege of raising our children al pi torah, according to His laws. We strive to give our children every advantage, both physically and spiritually. Providing foods to our children that meet the highest standards of quality and Kashrus gives them this physical and spiritual advantage from the onset of their lives.