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Vegetable Oil

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Is there anything wrong with buying pure corn oil or canola oil without hashgachah?   I can’t imagine they would put something else into the bottle, so is it, therefore, fine to buy from any brand? 

A. There are two different types of equipment issues with vegetables oils.  The first is that most oils prepared for use by consumers or for commercial use go through a distillation process to remove undesirable odors.  Basically, the oil is heated to a specific temperature where the odorous elements evaporate and can therefore be separated from the rest of the oil.

Due to the nature of the distillation process, the same deodorizing equipment can be used for animal fats and vegetable oils with little, if any, cleaning between products. For this reason, oil that is ready to use in cooking etc. (i.e., not crude) requires hashgachah to ensure that it was not deodorized on non-kosher equipment.  (In fact, the deodorization of oils and fats is a prime reason why the leniency noted in Shulchan Aruch YD 103:4 and 114:7 regarding b’lios of animal fat is no longer applicable nowadays.)

An exception to this is extra virgin olive oil, which is not deodorized or otherwise heated and does not pose a kashrus concern for year-round or Pesach.  A careful reading of the reports of adulteration of extra virgin olive oil show that the vast majority have to do with quality standards (e.g., color, expiration date) and do not involve hot processing or adulteration with ingredients that are kosher-sensitive.

The other issue with vegetables oils is the way they are transported in bulk from the factory where they are extracted to where they are deodorized, and from there to where they are bottled.  Ships are used to transport the largest volumes across the ocean, and there are several ways that ta’am from a non-kosher product on the ship might transfer to the kosher oil.  Once on land, railcars and tanker trucks are used to carry the oil to its destination.  From a kashrus perspective, railcars have an advantage that there is almost always at least 24 hours between when one product is removed and the next is put in.  This means that b’dieved there is no concern of b’lios from a previous product hauled in the railcar.  (And there are no other products in the railcar from which ta’am might spread.)  This is not true of trucks/trailers.  However, they have their own advantage – that the tanker walls are made of very thin metal, and ta’am absorbed in the trailer walls are invariably batel b’shishim in any product hauled in the trailer.  Thus, the concerns of b’lios from railcars and tankers are b’dieved not a concern.  But when one purchases the oil with hashgachah, that will also include oversight that transport is done in a l’chatchilah manner in a railcar or trailer that is kosher, and that even the facility where the interior of the trailer is washed is also not a place where non-kosher ta’am might transfer into the kosher trailer.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, May 19, 2023.