Understanding Kosher Food Symbols
In order to be considered kosher, almost all products (barring specific products like bottled water) require kosher certification. You can tell if a product is certified by looking for the appropriate kosher symbol on the package.
If you’ve ever looked closely at a package of kosher food, you may have noticed a small symbol near the product’s name. It may have looked like a circle with a “U” or a “K” in it, a star with a “K” in it, a symbol with Hebrew writing around it, or something else entirely. (Note: A circle with an “R” in it is not a kosher symbol.) This symbol is like a stamp of approval from a kosher certification agency that people who keep kosher trust. Each agency has its own symbol and its own standards, and people who keep kosher may only buy commercial goods with certain specific symbols on it. Before buying commercial food for someone on the kosher diet, ask them which symbol you should look for. A kosher certification agency can be viewed similarly to the Board of Health. In some cases, the agency may have a mashgiach (lit. “watcher,” person who is knowledgeable in kosher laws) stay at the factory or processing plant on a continual basis. The mashgiach would oversee all operations and ensure that everything is done according to the appropriate protocol. In other cases, the agency would decide to send in a mashgiach periodically to make sure that everything is running smoothly and according to kosher laws. The agency makes this decision based on the details of the company, the type of product, and the level of supervision required.
Why Kosher Certification is Necessary
There are two main issues that kosher certification addresses. The first issue is the possibility that one of the seemingly innocent ingredients is not truly kosher. For example, certain chemicals with long, convoluted names that end up in ingredient lists are actually derived from non-kosher animals, such as snails, pigs, or insects. Kosher certification agencies make sure to research where each ingredient came from to ensure that it is kosher.
The second issue that certification addresses is the possibility that a product may have been processed on the same line as a non-kosher product. For example, assuming that a cookie company produces several types of cookies – some made with lard (non-kosher), and some with margarine (kosher). The company’s factory may, at times, use the same equipment for both types of cookies. This would effectively make the initially kosher cookies non-kosher. The kosher certification agencies make sure that kosher products are only processed on kosher lines.
This post is part of the series: Guide to the Kosher Diet
This guide to the kosher diet gives an overview the many complex aspects of keeping kosher. It deals with the prohibition of mixing milk and meat, avoiding foods like pork, and other less commonly known kosher laws. It includes details about kosher symbols and the certification they represent.