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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. When does kosher food need to be sealed?

A. For many foods, there is no difference in price or quality between the kosher version and the non-kosher one, and, therefore, there is no incentive for someone to switch one for the other.  In contrast, it takes special effort to make kosher meat, cheese, wine, and certain other foods, and that raises a concern that someone unscrupulous might take the kosher one and replace it with a non-kosher substitute.  The concern applies when we think that he might switch them for financial gain (since the kosher is more expensive), because he perceives the kosher version tastes better, or for any other reason.  Therefore, Chazal decreed that if one of these foods is under the control of a person who does not keep kosher, the food must be “sealed” to ensure that no switching took place.

The common cases where this applies are for food sold in a non-kosher supermarket; delivered by someone who does not keep kosher; or when someone who does not keep kosher works in a person’s home, and there are stretches of time when no religious Jews are present.  In all these cases, the people who do not keep kosher have access to the kosher food and can potentially switch it for non-kosher without fear of being caught.  To prevent that from happening, the food must be packaged in a way that would make it obvious if anything was tampered with.

In some cases, all that is required is a simple, single seal, and for other foods – such as meat – where the incentive for fraud is greater, and the potential prohibition of eating non-kosher is worse, two seals (or one very tamper-proof seal) are required.  The decision about which seals are effective and acceptable, is not a static one but changes with the times and people’s ability to get around them.  For example, it used to be that “plumbas” and labels were considered perfect indicators that a chicken or bottle of wine was kosher, but nowadays many hashgachos are not satisfied with this and instead favor holograms and traceable/numbered seals.

Seals have always been required for food deliveries (unless the delivery person is Shomer Shabbos), and the common method of doing that is that the food is put into a box or bag, and the bag is taped shut with tape that indicates the name of the hashgachah and the store the food is coming from.  Although the delivery person could theoretically have a printer create similar tape for him, the cost and hassle involved would not be worthwhile for the small gain he would have from switching a few meals.  [In contrast, the seals used on raw meat shipped from a kosher slaughterhouse must be considerably more advanced, since in that case there is a much greater incentive for fraud.]

When stores provide their own delivery service, sealing packages is part of the delivery process.   But things are much more complicated when there are outside services, such as Uber Eats or Door Dash, who are hired by the consumer to pick up food from the store.  In those cases, the store might not even realize that the food is a “delivery” and might just think a customer is buying the food for personal use.  Accordingly, they might not seal the food before handing it to the driver.  Some hashgachos have, therefore, instituted that all pickup orders must be sealed even though many/most of the pickups are not really for delivery.

If food was delivered (or left home alone with someone who is not Shomer Shabbos) without seals, consumers should speak to their Rabbi about whether the food may be eaten.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, June 21, 2024.