Kashrus in the Workplace

The new food trends that have been embraced by society at large have led to a similar preoccupation with food within corporate America. This development has obvious ramifications for the kosher consumer at the office. The following is a guide to dealing with kashrus issues in the workplace.1 While it is impossible to address all the kashrus issues that may arise, this article provides an overview. As with all halacha, when questions arise, one should consult his rav.

1) Eating in a Cafeteria Shared with Co-Workers Who Eat Non-Kosher – Food on a plate, may’iker hadin, may be eaten even when placed on a non-kosher clean table. The Baday Hashulchan2 notes that today, the general custom is to use a napkin (or a placemat or something of a similar nature) when eating on a non-kosher table, even if it is clean.3 Although, in many cases a “heker” is required4 when individuals eating kosher meat and dairy are sitting next to each other, a heker is not required when eating next to someone partaking of non-kosher food. A heker in such circumstances is unnecessary because there is no concern that one will partake of the non-kosher food if it is offered to him.

2) Using Office Utensils and Cooking Devices in an Office with Non-Kosher Food – May one use the following food-related items in an office that has non-kosher food?
a) Water Cooler/Spring Water – Permissible
b) Utensils used with hot food (mugs, cutlery used by anyone in the office, etc.) – Do Not Use5
c) Metal Cutlery (e.g., forks, knives, spoons) – Do Not Use6
d) Can Opener – Permissible, after ensuring that it carries no residue
e) Plasticware/Paper goods (unused) – Permissible
f) Hot Water from an Urn, Pump Pot, Instant Hot Water – In general, these are permissible. If one witnessed a co-worker submerging the spout into non-kosher food, the urn should not be used. 7 In many cases, however, one does not actually witness the co-worker placing the spout in the bowl but is concerned that it is a possibility. In those cases, one should make an assessment of the likelihood of this happening. If the spout is sufficiently far away from the tabletop so it would be unnecessary to bring the bowl up to the spout, one should simply wipe the outside of the spout and run a little water through it before filling a cup. If the spout is so close to the tabletop that a bowl would not fit easily without touching the spout, one should not use the urn. Regarding the steam rising from the bowl, for various halachic reasons, the spout remains kosher.8 In such a case, one need only wipe the outside of the spout and dispense some hot water that should be discarded and then take hot water or coffee for use.
g) Coffee Urn – If the urn is used exclusively for coffee9 then one may drink coffee from it.10
h) Keurig Machine – There was a time when a Keurig machine dispensed only coffee. Currently, however, soups containing non-kosher meat can also be dispensed.11 Therefore, an office Keurig machine may not be used unless one can ascertain that it is being used for coffee only.12
i) Microwave Ovens – The easiest “no-questions-asked” way to use a microwave oven (including convection microwaves and those with a browning element) at work is to double wrap the food with a leak-proof wrapping. This can be accomplished by using two Ziploc bags or two separate pieces of Saran Wrap that fully cover and surround the food. One may also place the food into two plastic shopping bags. Either way, do not tightly cover the food as this may cause the container to explode. Alternatively, if there is a regular microwave oven (i.e., not convection or with a browning element), one may heat something uncovered if the product does not reach yad soledes bo.13

3) Storing Kosher Food with Non-Kosher Food – One may store kosher food in a closed container in a refrigerator that is also used to store non-kosher food. It is advisable to use a container that will adequately protect the kosher food should a co-worker’s lunch inadvertently leak.
The food may need a “siman” or seal. The guidelines are as follows: Meat, poultry and fish (i.e., food that could be issurei d’oraisa if switched) require two seals. Other products such as cheese, pizza, other dairy items, bread, and cake must also be sealed properly (one seal is enough for these potential issurei d’rabonon). One can create a double seal by placing the item into a bag from a supermarket that is found exclusively in Jewish neighborhoods (i.e., not typically frequented by the general public) and tying it with a tight double knot in such a way that the only way to access the contents is by tearing the bag. The flaps adjacent to the knot are also tied tightly, creating a second seal. Alternatively, one may tie a tight knot on any shopping bag and wrap masking tape bearing one’s Hebrew signature around it to ensure that the only way to open the bag is by tearing it, thus destroying the “seal”.14
Another option is to have a t’vias ayin, meaning that it can be identified by observation. For example, three small circles might be cut out on a piece of salami that will be noted when subsequently retrieving the food. As long as others are unaware of this “siman”, the meat or other item may be presumed to be one’s own. Similarly, certain homemade foods (e.g., hamburger patties) are particularly identifiable, thereby satisfying the t’vias ayin requirement.
Food left in a communal fridge requiring the conditions listed above may, nevertheless, be eaten if the food’s owner is always in the room in which the refrigerator is located or could have walked into the room at any time. In such circumstances, the food’s owner qualifies as a “yotzai v’nichnas”, meaning that the kashrus of the food is being supervised. If, however, food which can have a shaala remains in the public refrigerator where during a period of time when its owner could not have walked in (e.g., over Shabbos or Yom Tov and, in some offices, late at night), the food may not be eaten without one of the requirements listed above. For further guidance, consult your Rav.

4) Food Brought By Others – It is terribly uncomfortable to be unable to partake of food brought by non-Jews or non-observant Jews15 who go out of their way to bring kosher food. Such food may be eaten, however, only if the product bears a reliable kosher certification and has been retained in a properly sealed package. In general, the same applies to food that is delivered from a kosher establishment.16 Others should, therefore, be reminded of the necessary requirements in advance.
Meat, fish or wine may not be consumed if at any juncture they were unsealed without proper reliable supervision.17 Unsealed cake or cookies that is represented to have been purchased from a kosher bakery may also not be eaten, unless either the product can be identified as coming from a kosher bake shop (i.e., t’vias ayin) or there is a receipt proving that the products were acquired that day (or night before) from the referenced bakery. As noted above, it is advisable to remind colleagues to ask the kosher bake shop employee to seal the box with tape or a sticker that identifies the source of the products. Homemade items from a non-kosher kitchen are, of course, strictly forbidden.18 
Seals or special packaging are not required for items that do not require certification (e.g., salt or sugar).

5) Attending “Kosher” Holiday Office Parties19 – It is imperative that the reliability of the hechsher be ascertained. Even when the hechsher on the food is reliable, one must determine the nature of the catering service since it may be in one of two forms. A “Fully Catered” event means that the kosher caterer presides over the entirety of the event, accompanied by the staff and mashgichim. In such instances, a reliable hechsher is sufficient.20 By contrast, “Food Service” refers to a caterer simply delivering kosher sealed food to the event.21 In such a case, a responsible Shomer Shabbos employee should be designated to open the seals and serve as “mashgiach”, from the time of the food delivery through the end of the party.22 Furthermore, attendees must know if the entire party is kosher or there is only a designated table. If it is the latter, specific details must be ascertained to avoid confusion. It is critical to know in advance which catering method is being used and plan accordingly.
Kosher non-mevushal wine at office parties should be presumed to have become non-kosher and should be avoided. Other concerns, worthy of consultation with a rav, apply to even mevushal wine.23 A rav should be consulted when one’s job requires ordering non-kosher food for an office party or otherwise.24

6) Giving Holiday Gifts – Even in December, when necessary, there is generally no prohibition in giving a co-worker a holiday gift25 accompanied by a “Season’s Greetings” card. One may even give a gift of non-kosher food to a non-Jew. However, non-kosher food may not be given to a Jew, regardless of his level of observance. One may not give anyone – even a non-Jew – something that is assur b’hanaa (prohibited from deriving benefit), including basar b’chalav (a milk and meat mixture heated together), non-kosher wine or grape juice, or chometz on Pesach.
If one receives a gift of non-kosher food, one may either give it away to a non-Jew or exchange it for something else. However, if it is assur b’hanaa (e.g., a bottle of non-kosher wine)26 it must be discarded.

7) Company-Owned Chometz After Pesach – It is critical that all chometz in the possession of a Jewish-owned company be sold to a gentile prior to Pesach. One should be on alert for the following scenario: A Jewish doctor or accountant owns (or is a partner in) a practice and delegates snack purchases to a non-Jewish employee. Typically, the owner may be unaware of the “inventory” of bags of pretzels in stock that were either not sold or were even actually being served during Pesach. If one works in such an office, one should be proactive to address the issue.27

8) Eating in a Non-Kosher Restaurant28 – In addition to kashrus concerns, there are various halachic issues related to eating in a non-kosher establishment, including maris ayin, which means under certain conditions one may not perform a permissible activity because it gives the appearance of a prohibited action.29 One of the reasons to allow someone to attend an important business meeting in a non-kosher restaurant is based on a teshuva from Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l,30 who is lenient in cases of great need.31 Therefore, when necessary, one may go into such a restaurant and either drink a kosher cold beverage or eat uncut raw fruit (e.g., uncut apple that one cuts with a plastic knife or eats as is) or uncut vegetables.32 One can also eat a kosher certified “airline” type meal that was sent to the non-kosher restaurant and heated while properly sealed. One must use plasticware or, alternatively, one may use silverware and dishes that came properly sealed from the kosher caterer. Aside from airline-type sealed meals with a reliable hechsher, one may not consume any items that are heated or cut up in a non-kosher restaurant. This includes salads and most other items found there.
Those who work in a non-Jewish environment are often faced with difficult circumstances.33 Performing mitzvos and avoiding issurim is, indeed, a “kiddush Hashem” fulfilled by so many Yidden every day with great mesiras nefesh. Fortunately, nowadays, there are so many more opportunities for kosher consumers in the workplace to enable Yidden to properly serve the Ribbono Shel Olam without compromise – L’hagdil Torah U’lhaadeera.

1 Various specific kashrus issues at the workplace have been addressed in previous editions of Kashrus Kurrents, including the following – “Microwaving in the Workplace” by Rabbi Tzvi Rosen; “Don’t Drink The Coffee” by Rabbi Boruch Beyer; “Getting Into Hot Water-Urns and Pump Pots in Halacha” by Rabbi Zvi Goldberg; and an article from Insights from the Institute, Summer 2009, regarding entering non-kosher restaurants by Rabbi Mordechai Frankel. This article elaborates on the above topics and addresses numerous other kashrus issues. Note that there are often many halachic concerns that relate to the workplace that are beyond the scope of our discussion. A rav should be consulted concerning those matters. For general guidelines regarding an array of halachic issues in the workplace, see “Making It Work” by Ari Wasserman. Also, note that this article focuses on general year-round kashrus and does not address halachos related to Pesach (except where noted).
2 Yorah Deah 89:102 based on the Minchas Yaakov 76:17, who says this is the opinion of the Bach – Orach Chaim 173.
3 If the table is dirty, one is not using a plate (e.g., eating an apple without a plate), or if the food is hot, depending on the specific situation one may be required to use a napkin, placemat or something of a similar nature.
4 Something noticeable that is not normally on the table (e.g., a keyring) that is placed between the plates in front of each party eating. See Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah 88:2
5 See also Shach Yorah Deah 91:3
6 B’dieved, if clean forks or spoons were used with cold food, everything is fine. If they were used with hot food, or if a knife was used with hot or cold food, consult a rav.
7 The same may be true if a co-worker touched a dairy product to a spout that one wishes to use for pareve.
8 This is because plastic does not become rapidly hot so the spout may not become hot; it will, therefore, not absorb the taam of the rising steam. If it does become hot, halacha considers that steam is deflected by the heat of the spout. See Chelkas Yaakov O.C. 204.
9 Although one may not drink flavored coffee without a hechsher, the urn does not become non-kosher if non-certified flavored coffee is heated in it. If one knows that the urn contained treif items, the urn is also treif and may not be used. Hot chocolate would make the urn dairy, and if it has no hechsher it could make it non-kosher. Contact your local kashrus agency to determine if the brand of non-certified hot chocolate compromised the kashrus status of the urn.
10 Note that coin operated coffee dispenser vending machines may generally not be used, as they often dispense non-kosher soup.
11 Non-kosher chicken soup will render a Keurig machine treif. Dairy products will render it dairy. Non-certified flavored coffees will not render the Keurig non-kosher (see footnote 9). However, if such coffee is used one should clean the Keurig from any remaining non-certified coffee by dispensing hot water and discarding it before making kosher coffee.
12 A Keurig that may have been used with non-kosher products or dairy (and one wants it to remain pareve), can be kashered as follows: Clean the Keurig well. Replace the cup holder with a new K-cup holder (a replaceable part). Do not use at all for 24 hours and then run a cycle of hot water to kasher the upper metal pin. This may not be so practical in an office, as a 24-hour down time is often difficult to facilitate.
13 Yad soledes bo is 120° F. For more details regarding other microwave options, see “Microwaving in the Workplace” by Rabbi Tzvi Rosen at www.star-k.org.php73-40.lan3-1.websitetestlink.com.php73-40.lan3-1.websitetestlink.com.php73-40.lan3-1.websitetestlink.com.
14 Under certain conditions, a single “siman muvhak” (i.e., something extremely difficult to forge) is enough.
15 The same applies to someone who keeps kosher but is a mechalel Shabbos b’farhesya. Consult a rav regarding Shomer Shabbos individuals who do not appear to keep your strict level of kashrus.
16 If delivered by a non-Jew or non-observant Jew.
17 If there is a way to ascertain the source of the food, a rav should be consulted for further guidance. For example, if deli sandwiches were delivered from a kosher caterer and upon receipt, non-Jewish or non-observant co-workers unsealed the packages to put out the sandwiches, generally they may not be eaten. However, if the caterer can identify his sandwiches by their appearance and confirm that they were prepared in his shop, b’dieved, the sandwiches may be eaten (i.e., t’vias ayin applies).
18 Besides possible non-kosher ingredients and equipment, there may be a pas akum issue as well, as this gezaira could apply to items baked in the home of a non-Jew.
19 Aside from kashrus concerns, attending such parties implicates other halachic issues not addressed in this article. A rav should be consulted.
20 This is typically the case when an outside caterer with a reliable hechsher caters a hotel wedding.
21 This system is often used when a restaurant delivers food to a shul for a bris.
22 Eating at a table with others who are eating non-kosher food (often relevant at parties) was previously discussed in Section 1.
23 For a discussion regarding halachic issues related to social drinking with alcoholic beverages, see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 114:1 and commentaries.
24 For example, ordering non-kosher food for a Jewish office may be forbidden even if the employees are non-observant. Furthermore, ordering basar b’chalav products (e.g., pepperoni pizza) or chometz on Pesach even for a non-Jewish office may be prohibited.
25 See Rama, Yoreh Deah 148:12, in the name of Terumas Hadeshen siman 195. (Note: This teshuva and Rama were censored. The newer volumes contain the original nusach, which addresses the “Eighth day of Nittel” and gift giving.) It should be noted that giving holiday gifts often avoids the halachic concerns of the prohibition of lo sichanem when they are helpful in advancing good standing status at work. These details are beyond the scope of this article.
26 Stam yaynam of a non-Jew is l’chatchila assur b’hanaa – see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 123:1. If there will be a loss, consult a rav.
27 We recommend that an employee at a company owned by observant Jews ensures that the owners have sold and properly stored all chometz snacks before Pesach. Absent such confirmation, one cannot assume it was done correctly. If the owner is Jewish but not observant, efforts should be undertaken to arrange a proper sale and chometz storage. If this is not possible, be cognizant of the chometz she’avar alav haPesach in the office and do not eat those snacks until the packages that were in-house during Pesach have been depleted, or the package that contains the chometz item you wish to consume was purchased after Pesach.
28 For a full discussion, see article from Insights from The Institute, Summer 2009, by Rabbi Mordechai Frankel.
29 Furthermore, someone who sees an observant Jew enter this establishment may incorrectly think that this restaurant is a kosher facility.
30 See Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:40, who is lenient regarding entering a non-kosher restaurant (for kosher food) if the person is “mitztaer” or very hungry. This would seem to allow any case of great need, including a business meeting one is expected to attend.
31 Even when allowed, one should make every effort to avoid going to a non-kosher restaurant in a Jewish neighborhood, as this may create a bigger problem of maris ayin than going to a non-kosher restaurant that is not located in a Jewish neighborhood. Even in a non-Jewish neighborhood, if someone still recognizes the person he should explain why he was in a non-kosher restaurant. It could also be argued that nowadays, when a frum person is seen in a non-kosher restaurant with a group of non-Jews in a business-like setting, it is commonly understood that he is attending a business meeting and maris ayin would not be an issue.
32 Only those fruits and vegetables that are not subject to infestation are permissible.
33 One may not be oveir an issur to avoid embarrassment. Additional food- related halachic issues beyond the scope of our article include the recitation of brochos at the workplace and jobs that require cooking (e.g., a chef) or handling (e.g., a healthcare specialist who feeds patients) non-kosher food. Consult a rav for proper hadracha.