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24 Kashrus Agencies Report How They Check Vegetables
|Plus: Is Airplane Water Safe to Drink?, 4 Dairy Surprises Kosher on Campus, Insect-o-Graph, “Milk” Products That Are Pareve|
The Vegetable Policies of 24 Kashrus Agencies:
There was a second part to that email. It was about vegetables, and read:
Some of the responses were detailed and others were straight and to the point, using just a few words to sum up a challenging area of kashrus. We are printing many of those emails which we received and we have retained the terse style of the writers.
This article should be another eye opener. The responses from the agencies for their vegetable policies are from across the spectrum and open us up to see the various approaches and to understand more about where these agencies fit in the kosher world.
Are the agencies using the “shmatte bedika method”? (See sidebar on page 26 in Kashrus Magazine; also see Issue #181, October 2016, pages 39-42, where we printed an opening dialogue over the advisability of the shmatte bedika replacing the leaf-by-leaf method.) Are they doing a leaf-by-leaf check on a light-box? Do they rely on a chazaka (a sample to prove the probability of the product being clean)? Or, are they using a combination of the various methods? For which vegetables?
Does the agency ask the storeowners to buy bagged, pre-washed vegetables? Are they using only greenhouse grown and kosher-certified vegetables? Certified by whom? Are all of their mashgichim welcome to check vegetables? Are those who check specially trained? Can a Shomer Shabbos owner be allowed to do his own checking?
We are reporting what the agencies told us. There is no evaluation being made here of their responses. Read through this article until the end and then discuss this matter with your rabbi or local kashrus advisor. And keep following KASHRUS Magazine where we will keep you up-to-date on the latest findings.
Rabbi Moshe Edelstein, Kashrus Administrator, “KAJ”-Breuers, New York, NY: We require that proprietors or caterers under our supervision should buy pre-checked vegetables from pre-approved sources, hashgochos, or brand names. Some of the approved sources may be grown in greenhouses, while other may not be, depending on the type of vegetable or herb they seek to procure. As a rule, we don’t allow mashgichim to check vegetables or herbs at an event, establishment, or at a caterer’s commissary.
The Web(be) Rebbe, Orthodox Union Kashruth Division (“OU”), New York, NY: All of our food service establishments use the shmatte method for checking vegetables. Only the shmatte method, nothing else.
Rabbi Yosef Feigelstock, Av Beis Din, Bait Hakneset Beit Menajem, Buenos Aires, Argentina: We use the leaf-by-leaf method, and a maximum of 1 box a day for each mashgiach to look over.
Rabbi Dr. Umberto Avraham Piperno, Rabbinic Administrator, Sova Kashrut, Padova, Italy: It depends which vegetables. For broccoli we use the leaf-by-leaf method. For rice we use the shmatte bedika. For strawberries we use a chazaka.
Rabbi Mark Urkowitz, Senior Rabbinic Administrator, Houston Kashruth Association (“HKA”), Houston, TX: For vegetables we use the shmatta bedika, the light box, and chazaka.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adler, Beth David Synagogue, West Hartford, CT: We rely on chazaka checks for vegetables.
Rabbi Michael Shudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, Union of Jewish Religious Communities, Warsaw, Poland: We check leaf-by-leaf.
Rabbi Sholey Klein, Dallas Kosher, Dallas, TX: NO shmatta bedikas. The large lettuce is washed leaf-by-leaf. Small leaf vegetables, such as parsley or mescaline mix, are washed with soap and the clean water is checked.
Neria Leviav, Executive Manager, Badatz Mekor Haim, Flushing, NY: We at “BMH” are always looking to improve our standards, especially in light of recent developments in insect infestation. At the present time, establishments with a mashgiach temidi utilize leaf-by-leaf and chazaka inspections, although we are training our mashgichim in the shmatte bedikah method, which will be fully implemented in the coming weeks. Dairy establishments use pre-checked vegetables only.
Yeshiva & Kolel Jafetz Jaim, Buenos Aires, Argentina: All vegetables must be hand checked by a specially trained mashgiach who is approved for bedikas tolaim. Vegetables are individually checked, leaf by leaf; broccoli and the like are never allowed. All flour must be sifted prior to being used.
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INSECT-O-GRAPH Delivers Bug-Free Flour -Bugs can run, but they can’t hide from the Insect-o-graph. This device can find bugs hiding inside seeds and grain kernels. In fact, it can find an insect that trained experts can’t see. It is important to inspectors who work to make sure grain is insect-free before it is too heavily infested.
How does the Insect-o-graph operate? How is it being used today? What are its limitations? Can this be a kosher breakthrough to guarantee halachically that produce is “bug-free?”
How the Insect-o-graph Works
Dr. Tom Pearson, an agricultural engineer with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, and his colleague, Dr. Dan Brabec, developed the Insect-o-graph. The Insect-o-graph is sold by National Manufacturing in Lincoln, Nebraska. It currently retails at about $15,600 for the device, cart, waste container, software, and laptop.
The Insect-o-graph is a conductive roller mill which estimates insect fragments in the resulting flour. It uses a crushing mill and an electrical current to detect the larvae in wheat as it’s milled or ground into meal. The mill has two rollers for crushing the grain, with an electrical current running through one and a small gap between them.
When there is nothing between the rollers, there is no electrical conductance, but when wheat kernels are crushed between the rollers, a small amount of electricity is conducted to the second roller. When a wheat kernel that contains a live larva is crushed, the insect’s internal juices come out and serve as is a better conductor for the electricity, giving a spike (an electrical short).
These spikes are monitored and counted by a computer, which can distinguish between wet kernels and insects by the shape of the spike.
If a seed containing an insect is crushed, a monitor shows an electrical spike and a computer counts the number of insects in a small sample of the grain. The Insect-o-graph system detects really low levels of infestations—just 5 to 10 infested seeds out of 30,000 good seeds (1 kilogram). Their findings vary from 12-2,000 insects found per kilogram.
Grain companies inspect grain as it comes into their facilities. Before unloading a truck or railroad car full of grain, workers sample the load and inspect the grain. The Insect-o-graph estimates the number of live insects hidden in a kilogram grain sample in about one minute. Tracking insect infestations in stored grain is important to ensure good grain quality, because insect colonies can multiply very quickly, and they eat and damage grain as the colonies grow. Also, insects cost grain companies money because of kernel damage. The companies also have to do more cleaning to remove insects and damaged kernels. The economic loss is in the millions of dollars each year.
Which Insects Does the Insect-o-graph Monitor?
The Insectograph was developed and tested using wheat samples infested with two insect pests of stored grain that are more common in the central and southern United States: the rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae) and the lesser grain borer (Rhyzopertha dominica). The lesser grain borer, at maximum size of 3 millimeters, is small, but this beetle attacks wheat, barley, sorghum, rice, seeds and dried fruit, feeding on them throughout its life.
Does the Insect-o-graph Work for Other Insects as well?
Dr. Pearson and colleagues plan to study the Insect-o-graph’s utility for detecting the rusty grain beetle and the granary weevil, also pests in the United States, as well as smaller sizes of larvae.
In Canada, it is prohibited to sell grain that contains live insects. However, some grain storage pests develop inside the kernels as larvae, making them difficult to detect. Until now, the Berlese funnel, among other methods, was used by the Canadian Grain Commission to detect insects, but that process takes much longer.
In the Berlese funnel method, a grain sample is placed in a large funnel, and a heat lamp warms the grain from above. The heat causes most insects to move downward, away from the heat source, and eventually fall out of the funnel bottom into a collection container. It takes about six hours to do the test because the heat has to percolate through the sample slowly enough not to kill the insects.
Canadians are hopeful that the Insect-o-graph will be able to detect insect species that are more common in Canada or can be adapted for those species. The two most common, problematic insects in Canadian grain are the rusty grain beetle (Cryptolestes ferrugineus), which can occur inside wheat kernels, and the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum), which doesn’t develop inside the kernel. The Insect-o-graph, so far, is capable of detecting insects found inside the kernels.
Also, the larvae of the rusty grain beetle in Canada are much smaller than those of the rice weevil and lesser grain borer in the U.S. One more insect, the granary weevil (Sitophilus granarius), is problematic in some areas of Canada and its larvae develop inside the grain kernel. It cannot be detected using the Berlese funnel method. The Insect-o-graph is being tested in Canada for use on this particular insect.
Value for Kosher
The Insect-o-graph holds two very important opportunities for kosher. Firstly, the reports of infestation in grains are now available. Kashrus agencies can use the data of the level of infestation to better monitor their efforts after milling. But no matter what those levels are, sifting at the bakery stage is still a crucial step to guarantee bug-free baked goods. The other value for the kosher world is the future of development in this area. Just as Canada and the U.S. manufacturers seek to broaden the scope of this device, we may be able to look forward for new devices based upon this landmark invention.
Is The Water Safe to Drink? -A former Lufthansa cargo agent wrote that he strongly advised never, ever to drink water on an aircraft that did not come from a sealed bottle. “Don’t even TOUCH IT,” he said. One reason is that the ports to purge the lavatory and to refill the aircraft with potable water are within just a few feet from each other. They are sometimes serviced all at once by the same person. Not always, mind you, but if you are not personally on the ramp watching, you will never know. He also recommended that the drinking water used for making coffee, tea, etc., should also never be consumed. The holding tanks in these planes are sometimes 60 years old, just as old as the planes, and they are never cleaned. They have accumulated so much greenish grime on the walls that in some places it can be inches thick. This issue is very well known by airline employees.
Whatever you do, however, you should not drink the water from the lavatory. It is bad enough to wash your hands in it. The water tank is sanitized at selected maintenance intervals, a few times a month. Parasites build up tolerances to the cleansers. The water contains bacteria from wherever the plane has landed and tanked up, possibly including various countries and US regions where tap water is not potable.
For washing your hands, it is best to stick to hand sanitizing packets. For drinking, choose the cans of soda or bottled water. Even if they are not complementary, the price is well worth your safety.
Back in 2002, The Wall Street Journal did an informal study by sending reporters with sample vials who hopped on 14 different flights, collecting water from galley and lavatory taps.
The results: a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from salmonella and staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs. Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits.
In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which monitors tap water quality on the ground and in the skies — conducted a study of airplane drinking water, finding water supplies on 15% of the 327 aircraft it tested positive for “total coliform.” (Total coliform are indicators that other disease-causing organisms such as fecal coliform or E. coli could be in the water and could affect people’s health.)
Officials at the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, said that the water on airplanes is perfectly safe to drink, and that they have concerns with the methodology of the EPA’s tests back in 2004. Among the ATA’s concerns: The majority of the tests seemed to come from airplane lavatories rather than galleys.
The airline industry didn’t want to fight over the EPA’s statistics. So, with the airlines’ cooperation, the EPA issued water testing protocols.
The EPA’s own website, however, continues to warn that “passengers with compromised immune systems, or others concerned, may want to request canned or bottled beverages and avoid drinking coffee, tea, and other drinks prepared with tap water.”
Dr. Christie Reed, travelers’ health team leader at the Centers for Disease Control, said that “the water from the tap in airplane bathrooms is effective for washing your hands but not intended for drinking.”
While airlines routinely serve free tap water, the same water used for tea and coffee, several investigations have suggested that supplies are prone to contamination.
In 2013, an NBC investigation found that the problem was ongoing, with EPA figures showing that around 12 percent of aircraft in the US had at least one positive test during 2012.
In June 2015, an investigation was launched after drinking water on board 14 Cathay Pacific aircraft – around 10 percent of its entire fleet – was found to be tainted.
Hong Kong’s Port Health Office (PHO) collected samples from 22 planes, as part of a routine examination. Tests found that 14 of the samples failed to meet minimum hygiene standards.
Cathay Pacific urged passengers not to brush their teeth in the plane lavatories and handed out bottled water to everyone on board.
This is despite efforts the airline has made for travelers. Cathay Pacific has water samples collected from each of its aircraft every six months, while all water tanks are cleaned and disinfected every three months.
Cathay Pacific had been named the world’s 4th cleanest airline, behind EVA Air, Singapore Airlines and ANA All Nippon Airways, at the most recent Skytrax World Airline Awards, based on a survey of 18 million passengers. This did not prevent it from failing significantly. KASHRUS welcomes responses and updates from readers who travel.
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