Keeping a Kosher Supply Chain

By Daniel R. Matlis

Last month, I had the opportunity to chair the Global Pharma Sourcing Conference in Philadelphia. A recurring theme of the conference was the need to rigorously supervise and certify suppliers by implementing “trust, but verify” strategies. This got me thinking about the Kosher supervision and certification in the Food and Over the Counter (OTC) supply chain.

To learn more about how to keep a Kosher supply chain, I spoke with Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, Vice President – Communications and Marketing at Orthodox Union (OU) Kosher. OU is non-profit communal organization founded in 1898 and the world’s largest and most widely recognized kosher certification agency.

The Organization certifies more than 500,000 products produced in over 8,000 plants around the world. In today’s global environment, the OU certifies close to 300 facilities in China, as well as facilities in Argentina, India, Egypt and Turkey and some 80 other nations.

“Many of the brands you trust, rely on the OU for their kosher certification, including: ADM, Cargill, Coca Cola, DSM, General Mills, Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical, H.J. Heinz, Hershey’s, Kraft/Nabisco, McCormick & Co., Nestlé, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, Pillsbury, Quest, Reynolds Aluminum, Rhodia, Unilever, and thousands more,” explained Rabbi Safran.

Contrary to popular belief, obtaining kosher certification does not involve a Rabbinical blessing over food products, or the manufacturing plants. So what is Kosher? The word kosher means proper or acceptable and it has entered the English vernacular with that meaning.

“Kosher laws have their origin in the Bible, and are detailed in the code of Jewish law. Kosher regulations are about the process, the purity and the traceability of ingredients. You may be surprised at the extent of Kosher regulations.” explained Rabbi Safran. “Kosherizing a food production or industrial facility requires a structured and meticulous process including equipment sterilization,” he added.

The OU inspects every facility where certified products are manufactured. It also requires the use of authorized ingredients from approved and qualified sources. To ensure compliance to its standards, the OU conducts unannounced, periodic inspections. “Our responsibility is making sure that things are done right. We answer to a higher authority, and are not motivated by profit,” said Rabbi Safran.

To achieve this goal, the OU employs over 600 Rabbinic Field Representatives located throughout the world – from Europe to Australia, from the China to South Africa. OU Field Representatives are proficient in modern manufacturing techniques, chemical & biological processes, as well as the intricacies of Jewish Kosher law. The agency’s New York headquarters staff consists of over 50 Rabbinic Coordinators supported by ingredients registry staff, ingredient specialists, flavor analysts and other support staff. To keep track of supply chain and product information the OU utilizes a comprehensive state-of-the-art computerized database that contains information on more than 250,000 food ingredients.

Like our industry, the OU uses a “Risk Based Approach” in its auditing process. “A facility producing a simple product, like spring water, may be inspected a couple of times a year. On the other hand, a product with a complex formula and many ingredients, or one with Red Flag Ingredients (like Glycerin) would be inspected a lot more frequently ” said Rabbi Safran. “For some high risk products, the OU has round the clock constant supervision of the facility” he added.

Partnering with the OU enables companies to leverage the organization’s vast resources. OU staff has a thorough understanding of manufacturing processes, ingredients, chemistry of additives and the procedures manufacturers employ in converting raw materials to finished products and incorporating all these resources in the kosher certification process. OU maintains a comprehensive database of approved and certified suppliers. Manufacturers rely on OU for recommendations on kosher ingredient as well new sources of raw materials and pre-certified alternate suppliers.

In recent years, over the counter Pharmaceutical and Nutritional companies have reached out to OU to obtain certification. Novartis was the first mainstream Pharmaceutical Company to achieve OU certification for its Triaminic Cough Syrup. The company has since added Maalox and Benefiber to the family of OU certified products.

Mead Johnson has OU certified many of its Enfamil, ProSobee and Poly-Vi-Sol Multivitamin products. OU also certifies products from Perrigo Holland, Maxx Performance, Robell Research, Health Management Resources and Soluble Products.

“Although we live in a society where trends come and go, as long as people need to eat, they are going to buy products that assure quality and integrity. As a result, they will look to the OU symbol as a clear indicator of both,” concluded Rabbi Safran.

So the next time you get a shipment from a supplier, maybe you should check if they keep a “Kosher” Supply Chain.

Special thanks to Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, Vice President – Communications and Marketing at Orthodox Union (OU) Kosher for his contributions to this article. For more information about the OU certification process he can be reached via email at:
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