Kosher Consumer Misconsumptions

Fall 2021

STAR-K’s consumer Kosher Hotline is constantly abuzz with kashrus inquiries. Close to 5000 consumer calls were logged between Purim and Pesach 5781 alone. Questions range from product information to complex kitchen shailos, from reliable kosher airline caterers to wines whose kosher certification symbols are so small you need a high-powered magnifying glass to read the rav hamachshir’s name.

Even with all the available information, consumers still get confused or make incorrect assumptions that could lead to severe halachic consequences. The following examples of kosher consumer misconceptions are based on real Kosher Hotline inquiries. Hopefully, this article will help clarify some common errors.

Misconception 1: Putting an oven into Sabbath Mode allows one to cook on Shabbos.

Chas v’shalom! The Sabbath Mode does not allow one to cook on Shabbos. The Sabbath Mode makes a modern oven halachically compliant so that it may be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The purpose of the Sabbath Mode was to address new technological and computerized features that have created issues regarding oven use on Shabbos and Yom Tov. These features include: 12-hour shut off; ringing and chiming at the end of the time bake cycle; inability to disable the oven light; digital displays that render the modern-day oven unusable on Shabbos and impede adjusting the temperature for cooking on Yom Tov, among others.

The Sabbath Mode is an internal program that addresses and bypasses these issues so that the oven can be used on as halachically prescribed on Shabbos and Yom Tov. All laws of cooking and rewarming – bishul, shehiyah, and chazara – still apply and must be rigorously observed. It should be noted that clearing the control panel that allows for adjustment of the oven temperature on Yom Tov does not apply to use on Shabbos.

Misconception 2: Today, the kosher wine section in the liquor store carries Israeli wines produced from grapes grown in the Shemita year bearing the following claim, “Otzar Beis Din wine – after the sha’as habiur.”  The wine appears to have reliable certification. I should have no problem drinking this wine.

Proceed with caution. There are many factors that need to be clarified.

Can one purchase Shemita wine outside Eretz Yisroel, since the wine is vested with kedushas shevi’is, the sanctity of the Sabbatical year?

Regardless of whether the wine can be purchased after the grape/wine growing season has passed, and grapes are no longer found in the field, a halachic process must take place prior to one’s partaking of the grapes. One must take Shemitagrapes/wine[1], place them in a public domain and publicly declare in the presence of three people that these grapes are hefker, ownerless. This procedure of rescinding ownership of the grapes/wine after the grapes are no longer found in the fields is commonly referred to as being mafkir the peiros l’achar sha’as habiur. The nullifier, or anyone else, can claim or reclaim ownership of the grapes/wine, which would then be available for drinking.

However, the wine is still vested with kedushas shevi’is and cannot be used for any non-sanctified purpose, such as extinguishing a Havdalah candle, pouring out the remaining Kiddush wine, or pouring out the wine for the ten makos at the Pesach Seder. The wine or produce must be completely consumed.

According to Rabbi Moshe Heinemann shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of STAR-K, if one does not know if the biur procedure was performed properly, one would first have to rescind ownership of the wine in front of three people in a public domain. He would then be mafkir the wine, reclaim it, and only then drink the wine b’kedushas shevi’is .

Misconception 3: Cold food may be placed directly in a warming drawer on Shabbos, without a blech, regardless of the temperature of the warming drawer because it only keeps the food warm.

Not true. Since a warming drawer can warm food beyond yad soledes bo (120°F), which constitutes halachic cooking, it is forbidden to use the warming drawer on Shabbos. This is because a warming drawer is halachically considered to be the same as an oven because it is thermostatically controlled. However, if the warming drawer warms the food below yad soledes bo (120°F), it would be permitted for Shabbos use.

Misconception 4: Products labeled DE may be eaten only on dairy utensils, and products labeled ME may be eaten only on meat utensils.

This is an incorrect assumption. DE means that a pareve product was cooked using clean dairy equipment, and ME means that the pareve product was cooked using clean meat equipment. Since the product was cooked in a gender specific utensil, it cannot be eaten with the other gender: a DE product cannot be eaten with meat, and a ME product cannot be eaten with a dairy product. (Thus, spaghetti sauce stating that it is ME cannot be mixed with cheese.)

However, the restriction regarding the use of the other gender dishes or utensils only applies to using it while they are hot. Therefore, pareve ices stating that they are DE may be scooped into meat dessert bowls and vice versa, but should not be washed together with the regular dirty meat dishes in hot water.

Misconception 5: Frozen fruits or vegetables bearing kosher certification are pre-checked for tolayim and are halachically insect-free.

This is not necessarily so. Some certifications certify that the product does not require any further checking; others might not address the issue at all, or their standards might not require the produce to be inspected. This is a challenging problem for the kosher consumer because different organizations maintain different standards and some certifications do not address the issue at all.

Misconception 6: An allergy disclaimer stating that the product is made in a facility or on equipment that is used for dairy products automatically makes the product milchig, dairy.

False. Due to the severity of allergies – dairy, nut, gluten – companies are very careful to make disclosures to avoid any possible lawsuits. For example, to avoid cross contamination, a company may pack a dry, dairy, chocolate-covered peanut and have a complete wipe down after the product is packed. The label will correctly state, “produced in a facility that manufactures nuts and milk products.” 

When that company subsequently produces a 100% pareve item, and the same disclaimer appears, it means that the product was manufactured on strictly pareve equipment and there was no dairy contamination or intermingling whatsoever with the pareve product.

Misconception 7: All dairy products sold or produced in Israel are Cholov Yisroel.

This is a very important misconception, because the Israeli Chief Rabbinate will permit the use of non- Cholov Yisroel powdered milk to be used as an ingredient. The product will state ‘avkat cholov nochri’ – that non-Cholov Yisroel powdered milk is a permissible dairy ingredient. This is based on the heter of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l, former Rav of Yerushalayim, who maintained that the prohibition of  cholov akum only applies to fluid milk and not to powdered milk. This is not accepted as a Cholov Yisroel ingredient for those who are very strict adherents. But those who accept the heter of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l will consume avkat cholov nochri. Bottom line: Read the labels carefully.

Misconception 8: I made an online purchase of a product that displayed a prominent kashrus symbol on the label. Upon delivery, I noticed that the kashrus symbol was missing. Can I assume that the production is kosher, and the symbol was left off in error?

Au contraire! Websites are constantly changing, and it is not uncommon for companies to change or discontinue kosher certification. This is more prevalent with imported products that at the request of the importer pursued kosher certification. Once the contract terminates, so does the need for certification, but the website remains in perpetuity. Moral of the story: check the label!

Misconception 9: Stickers on kosher certified products ensure the product is kosher.

Depends. Sometimes a company makes a special production using alternative ingredients, leaving out ingredients such as resinous glaze or making a product bishul Yisroel.  However, the special production client does not want to pay for special packaging. A sticker is a far more inexpensive special labeling method. Sometimes, the sticker is just a ploy to lead the consumer to believe that it is a special production; at times, a sticker is placed irrespective of the kosher certification on the product. Consumers should be alerted to the fact that at times manufacturers will overwrap a KFP product using the same year-round overwrap packaging. 

As you can see, in the ever-changing world of kosher food certification, an alert and attuned kosher consumer is the best insurance policy to ensure that everything is error-free.

[1] Or any other Shemita produce.