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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. What does a restaurant Mashgiach do?
A. The Mashgiach at a restaurant, caterer, or similar location has three main jobs: ingredients, bishul Yisroel, and vegetable inspection, as follows.
Ingredients – The most obvious part of running a kosher restaurant is to make sure that the ingredients are kosher. The Mashgiach keeps an eye on the shipments of ingredients coming into the store and pays attention to what employees are using to be sure that all the ingredients are kosher. Distributors are notorious for sending “substitutes” when the requested item is not available, and, therefore, even if the store owner knows to ask for kosher ingredients, the incoming orders must be checked for mistakes. Most ingredients have readily recognizable hashgachos on them, but there will always be some cases where the logo is not a familiar one, and the Mashgiach will need to consult with his Rav HaMachshir to determine which of those are reputable. The most sensitive ingredients are meat, poultry, cheese, and wine, since the kosher versions of those cost much more than the non-kosher, which means that the owner has the biggest incentive to try to use the non-kosher versions if he can. Because of this, some hashgachos insist that any meat, cheese, etc. which is taken out of its original sealed package can only be used if the Mashgiach marks it to indicate that he knows it is kosher.
Bishul Yisroel – Any food which is not edible raw, and which might be served at a fancy event, is only kosher if a Jewish person participates in the cooking of that food. This requirement, called bishul Yisroel, applies to so many foods in a restaurant – meat, poultry, fish, rice, potatoes, and pasta, to name a few – that most hashgachos insist that (to avoid confusion and mistakes) all food cooked in the restaurant must be bishul Yisroel. It is not enough for the Mashgiach to just turn on the fires in the morning, since restaurant kitchens are very busy, and fires blow out or get turned off all the time. So, the Mashgiach must be around to relight any fire that goes out and to make sure that the non-Jewish employees don’t do it instead of him. The bishul Yisroel requirement is even more labor-intensive if the restaurant has a rice cooker, convection oven, and/or microwave oven, each of which needs to be restarted or turned-on multiple times per day.
Vegetables – Many of the popular lettuces, herbs, berries, and other fruits and vegetables must be washed and/or inspected before use to ensure that they are free of insects. Depending on the menu and how busy the restaurant is, overseeing this kashrus requirement can sometimes take several hours per day for the Mashgiach. Not only must the Mashgiach be trained and meticulous about this part of his job, but he must find ways to fit it in together with all his other responsibilities.
Other tasks that a Mashgiach might be responsible for include hafrashas challah, ensuring meat and fish are kept separate, tevillas keilim, and the sealing of outgoing deliveries.
One overarching responsibility is for the Mashgiach to have full control of the goings on at the restaurant. That is to say that if the manager or owner can enter the store when the Mashgiach leaves for the day, or if he is so busy with customers that he doesn’t notice employees lighting fires, or if the chef is able to grab unchecked herbs for a recipe, then the Mashgiach’s efforts are largely for naught. Thus, all the positive things the Mashgiach does must be complemented with systems which ensure the necessary level of control.
This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, December 23, 2023.