NEW HAVEN — While kosher consumers are enjoying a slice of pizza, a few Oreos or some kosher wine from Australia, “mashgichim” (kosher supervisors) around the globe are checking, blow-torching, and “toveling” (koshering utensils) in the mikvah.
In China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Star K certifies products in more than 200 factories. In Northern California, Rabbi Ben-TzionWelton wakes up at 5:30am, and then runs around inspecting vegetables at a salad packaging plant in Monterey County, checking a Kirspy Kreme donut outlet, a kosher restaurant, and some 50 kosher-certified food processing plants.
And in New Haven, Rabbi Jay Lapidus starts off the morning unlocking the doors of the Westville Kosher Market.
Rabbi Lapidus explains that Westville Kosher is the only free-standingglatt kosher butcher in Connecticut, is under the kosher supervision of two cooperating agencies-the Vaad Hakashrus for Connecticut, and the Connecticut K (under the leadership of Rabbi Jesse Fink). The “teudah,” or certification of kashrut certification, is usually posted in the window of kosher restaurants and stores.
As a “mashgiach temidi” (on premises at all times), Lapidus has many different responsibilities. He must unlock the meat cooler and main freezer first thing in the morning, and he must lock it at the end of the day. In this way, kosher consumers are assured that no non-kosher meat enters the store.
Lapidus checks shipments to make sure that only kosher-certifiedproducts are entering the market. And he inspects vegetables for the possible presence of bugs. While all fruit and vegetables are considered pareve (suitable to eat with either meat or dairy), the presence of bugs would render them unkosher. Lapidus uses a modified bug-checkingprotocol devised by the Star-K kosher supervising agency.
Lapidus, who notes that most mashgichim “do other work in the store, including serving customers, computer labeling of products, and general inventory control,” is very familiar with the daily operations of the market. He observes, “The higher the quality of the produce, the less chance one has of finding bugs.” He cites cabbage as an example where higher quality means fewer bugs.
Lapidus, who appears to have a good working relationship with owners, employees and customers of the Westville Market, notes that it is not always easy to enter and have the immediate trust of an establishment.
“My job as mashgiach is to teach,” reports Lapidus. “When I make rounds, I’m not looking for a ‘Gotcha!’-but I am looking for potential problems-andto provide beady eyes and ears of the observant community.” For example, if Lapidus notes that the red or green coloring (denoting a utensil being fleishig or pareve) is wearing off, he must bring it to the attention of workers who will reapply the correct color.
In the walk-in refrigerator, Lapidus shows a box of chickens, in the original cardboard container, with four separate hashgachas (kosher certifications). Lapidus explains that he is a “mashgiach temidi,” a full-time, on premises mashgiach, as opposed to a “nichnas v’yotzeh,” the Hebrew word for “enters and leaves,” the term used to a describe a mashgiach at an establishment who does spot checks.
While Lapidus is the mashgiach temidi at the Westville Market, he explains that other mashgichim serve other functions in other settings. For example, some supervise catering establishments, where they actually kasher the kitchen and see that only kosher products enter the building.
Rabbi Jesse Fink of the Connecticut K elaborates: “Some mashgichim have to kasher equipment at the plant. In some plants, like those producing cakes or chips, they may do different runs on the lines-the mashgiach must make sure it is koshered in between. Some oversee the koshering of trucks–if a truck, like a tanker truck, is carrying a liquid like hot oil, he must oversee the truck and hoses undergoing a ‘kosher wash’ with water above 180 degrees Fahrenheit. And mashgichim working with caterers over Shabbat have to make sure no fires are lit, no food is cooked, no equipment is moved, and that no outside food is brought in.”
Mashgichim around the world supervise production of wine, aluminum foil, spices, cleaning products and numerous other kosher-certified items.
Kosher consumers around the world have come to rely on mashgichim and hashgacha (kosher supervision) agencies, the unsung heroes of the kosher food industry, to assure that packaged goods, restaurants and markets are kosher. Kosher is big business.
According to Menachem Lubinsky, editor of “Kosher Today” and owner of Lubicon Marketing and Consulting, there are 10.5 million kosher consumers in the United States, 10,650 companies in the United States whose products are under kosher supervision, and 98,000 kosher certified products. Not to mention bakeries, restaurants and kosher markets in many cities and towns throughout the country. And it is the “mashgiach” who has the important job of “watching over” factories, caterers, restaurants, butchers and kosher stores to make sure “everything is kosher.”
According to Lubinsky of Lubicon, “The dollar value of the kosher market is $10.5 billion.”