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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. We passed a truck on the highway which had a decal on it declaring that the truck is certified kosher.  Really?  Why would a truck need hashgachah

A. The food we buy comes in disposable packaging, and we don’t have to think about whether the bottle or box is kosher.  But manufacturers ship large quantities of liquid from one place to another in all sorts of “containers” that are used again and again.  That raises concerns that the container being used today for kosher products, might have previously been filled with non-kosher items.  Some examples are given below.

Countries in the Far East produce tropical oils, which they ship to the United States in the holds of ships.  A hold is basically a cavernous metal box into which the product is filled, and a ship will have dozens of holds, each of which carries some material.  A simple kashrus concern is that the hold that brings palm oil back from Malaysia to Louisiana, might have been used to bring lard (i.e., non-kosher animal fat) from Texas to China a few days earlier.  A more subtle issue is that the hold containing palm oil might share a wall with an adjacent hold carrying non-kosher stearic acid, raising concerns that non-kosher ta’am will spread from the stearic acid into the palm oil.

The first of those issues relates to the tanker truck you saw on the road.  A truck hauling corn oil from Nebraska to Ohio, might have just been carrying (non-kosher) wine vinegar from New York to Oklahoma.  That means that the walls of the tanker absorbed non-kosher ta’am, and that can affect the kosher status of the corn oil.  The issue is more serious for tanker trucks than for ship holds (or railcars), since trucks can be refilled within a few hours of dropping off a load, while there is typically at least 24 hours between loads on a ship (such that the b’lios are aino ben yomo).  Trucks do not have adjacent holds like ships do, but they have another issue: the interior of the truck gets washed at special wash facilities between products.  If the wash facility recycles or recirculates their wash water (which is common), they might spread ta’am from one truck to the next.

Similar issues come up when companies ship products in smaller containers, such as totes or drums, which are reusable, and might be passed from one client to the next.

In some cases, there are halachic rationales for permitting products that are shipped in a container, even if one of these concerns apply.  The ta’am might be batel b’shishim, the equipment may qualify as asui l’hishtamesh b’shefah, the cleaning procedure might qualify as a kashering, the non-kosher might be nosein ta’am lifgam, or the ta’am might be aino ben yomo.  Those lines of reasoning may be appropriate to rely on in cases of b’dieved or where there is no other reasonable choice.  But we are blessed (in the United States) that companies are willing to make efforts to produce foods that are kosher on a l’chatchilah level, and one example of that is the certification of transportation.  The hashgachah ensures that all kashrus issues are dealt with in an optimal manner, so as to provide consumers with the kosher products they deserve.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, June 23, 2023.