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Canned Fruit vs. Canned Vegetables

Q: Someone at your office told me that pure canned fruit (without questionable additives such as fruit juice, colorings, flavors, and not produced in Israel) is acceptable without hashgachah but canned vegetables should only be purchased with proper certification. What’s the difference between them?

A: To answer this question we’ll have to first understand some details of how canned food is processed.

In order to assure that canned food is safe to eat, the can is heated in a “retort” with the food inside the can so that any dangerous microorganisms or “toxins” are destroyed. An even more intense level of heating is required to deal with the more significant danger of “spores” which are dormant microorganisms that are encased in a special shell. The spores per se do not pose a danger, but they must be destroyed so that they do not begin to grow (and produce toxins) when conditions become more favorable. Spores will not grow in foods which are highly acidic (called “high-acid” and defined as being a pH of 4.6 or lower) and therefore the spores in those foods do not have to be destroyed. Accordingly, they can be processed with a lower level of heating than is required for low-acid foods.

Meat, cheese, pasta and most vegetables (including corn, peas, carrot, beans, and tomatoes) are low-acid foods which require the more sophisticated retorts, and a company that has gone through the expense of purchasing that retort and the effort of having it licensed by the FDA, is likely to use it for a wide assortment of products. That is to say that even if the company’s primary business is to process simple vegetables, they might rent out the equipment for the processing of tomato sauce or pasta and beef during times that they don’t need the retorts. As a result, canned vegetables require a hashgachah to assure that the equipment is kashered before kosher is produced.

On the other hand, most fruits (including pineapple) are high-acid foods which can be processed on a simpler retort and it is common that fruit companies will have their own retort which is dedicated to that one product. Not only is the retort typically dedicated for that product but, in truth, it usually not even suited for the higher-temperature processing required of most non-kosher items (e.g. meat, cheese). [The high-acid retort might be used for foods that contain non-kosher grape juice, colors, or flavors, but that use would not render the equipment non-kosher; the reason for that is beyond the scope of this article.]