15 Dec Kashruth Questions of the Week
Q: What separates an OU hashgacha from other private hashgachas?
A: The most significant difference is the OU is a communal non for profit organization. No one owns or has equity at the OU. We are all salaried. We give supervision but have no personal financial motive for giving a hashgacha; we do what we must do. If we feel a company is deserving of a hashgacha, we will give the hasgacha. If we feel they don’t deserve the hashgacha, we won’t give the hashgacha, and if we feel the hashgacha should be dropped, we will drop the hashgacha. Many times when I speak publicly, people ask me what in my mind is the definition of a good hashgacha vs a weak hashgacha. I say that the difference is in the word “No.” Meaning, a good hashgacha is able to say to a company that comes to them, “No, we’re not going to give you a hashgacha.” A good hashgacha can tell a company that was certifying with them that they’re not meeting the conditions and they’re going to have their hashgacha taken away. In my mind, that is the definition of giving a hashgacha and an organization that has no financial gain from giving a hashgacha can say no. No one at the OU is paid based on the amount of hashgachas we give or based on the amount of money we receive from hashgachas. So we at the OU are able to say no and that in my mind is critically important. Also, another serious difference between the OU and other hashgachas, is that we have a network of staff unparalleled in the world of kashrus. We have 55 rabbanim in our office, all talmidei chachamim and yirei shamayim, who are experts in the world of kashrus and halacha, and experts in the way factories operate. We have hundreds of mashgichim all around the world supervising the factories that we certify. When you have such a staff of serious people, then you can give hashgacha. Another difference is where the excess funds go to. The extra money at OU Kosher gets filed back into the community and tzedakah programs that the OU is involved in. That is important in the Jewish community; it is not going into anyone’s private pocket.
The last difference is that the OU has invested many millions of dollars into technology, to aid our mashgichim with the certifying kashrus program. In the world that we live in, all our information is online, we communicate with our mashgichim online, and have such an incredible IT system, as a platform with incredible tools to give proper hashgacha. It takes a lot of resources and expertise, but we have been able to do it, and make sure our hashgacha is of high standards.
Does every restaurant under the OU have a mashgiach on the premises?
The OU is very strict that every restaurant that we certify, has a mashgiach onsite, no matter if it is a Dairy or Meat restaurant, or who the owner is. We have had too many circumstances where, whether deliberately or not, terrible things happen in these situations. A restaurant is very different from a factory. A restaurant is a very dynamic situation. You need to have different foods available all the time. And if you do not have the food available, you can just go to the corner and buy it. If you run out of chicken, you could just run to the corner and buy chicken. The same goes with vegetables, but those vegetables must be checked to make sure there is no infestation issues. The same thing can happen with a dairy restaurant; you can have the same issue with fish or cheese being Cholov Yisroel. There have been too many situations where restaurants and caterers were relied on without full time hashgacha, with very serious repercussions. Frankly, I am surprised that we who live here in Brooklyn, which is probably the largest and most observant community outside of Israel, have many restaurants, caterers and take out stores, which we all eat at, that do not have full time hashgacha.