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Q: My non-Jewish coworkers tell me about a vegetarian canned soup that they enjoy, and I’d love to give it a try but it has no Hechsher. Most of the ingredients seem to be just plain vegetables or spices, but there are a few that I don’t recognize. Can I use the soup?
A: Unfortunately, we are not able to recommend canned soup without a reliable hashgachah, and here are some of the reasons why:
Firstly, as you note, the ingredients must all be kosher. It is possible that if we reviewed the ingredient list with you we would find that, in fact, all of the ingredients are inherently kosher, but the chances are that there would be at least a few that we would not be able to approve without knowing more details from the manufacturer.
Even if all of the ingredients are kosher there are certain (cooked) foods which are only kosher if a Jew participated in cooking the food. The details of that set of laws, known as bishul Yisroel, are somewhat involved, and it is not always possible to determine whether a given product requires bishul Yisroel unless one is familiar with the details of the production. For example, cooked potatoes or pasta require bishul Yisroel if they are cooked alone, but not if they are cooked together with the rest of the soup and are just a minor component of the soup.
Lastly, canned foods are usually cooked in a sophisticated piece of equipment called a “retort”, and most companies use their retorts for more than one food. Thus, the retort in which non-kosher beef soup was cooked this morning, may be used to cook the vegetarian soup in the afternoon, and the cleanup between products does not qualify as a kashering. Thus, the general rule is that most canned items are only acceptable if they bear acceptable kosher certification which assures (among other things) that the status of the food is not compromised by the equipment.