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The Latest in Vegetable Inspection

 

What’s Happening Now?
Unknown to the public, kashrus is undergoing serious changes in the arena of vegetable inspection. We are still in the changeover stage. It is hard to say how long that will take, but, at the end, hopefully, all sincere kashrus agencies will be ‘in sync’ regarding insect free vegetables. Until then, the kosher consumer needs to satisfy himself that a given kashrus agency is meeting his needs.

For many years now pre-washed “bug-free vegetables” are being sold. Not all of them, however, have been up to par.


A Look Back

About 35 years ago, in Yeshiva Birkas Reuven, Rav Asher Zimmerman, zt”l, Rabbi Shamshon Brodsky, zt”l, and I sat together with a well-meaning rav who took on to produce one of the first “bug-free” vegetables. He had wanted Rav Zimmerman’s approval of his new endeavor. Rav Zimmerman was not impressed, for he held that those vegetables which are prone to insect infestation must be individually checked, not mass-produced “with a good washing system.”

Less than two months later that company had to stop production because consumers were finding too many insects in their products.

 

The State of Insect Infestation Today

In the last six years, the insect infestation level of leafy vegetables in the field has increased. At one time, after a good wash, companies always found their pre-packaged iceberg lettuce to be acceptably clean (though not always so with romaine). That false notion was shattered about 6 years ago when the major kashrus organizations could not put iceberg lettuce out for sale for several weeks due to the level of infestation.

Each spring and summer increased diligence is required as the insect population soars during those months. Just this year, nearly all kashrus agencies (in the U.S. and in several foreign countries) announced to the public that the situation with leafy vegetables had hit new levels and that methods for cleaning needed to be increased in scope and intensity. For a period of weeks (months in some cases), some kashrus agencies removed their certification of certain vegetables. Their symbol did not appear on the packaging.

This summer, in Flatbush, two kashrus agencies printed a series of full page advertisements warning the community of increased infestation and explaining their (new) procedures. One agency even notified Flatbush consumers that they would not find all the vegetables normally on the menu in their restaurants.

 

How are the Kashrus Agencies Dealing with the Problem?

Obviously, we have progressed and today many companies in the U.S., Israel, etc. claim to be “bug-free.” The systems for growing in greenhouses [not all brands use greenhouses], washing, and sample checking have improved significantly. Today, many feel safe with certain companies from among the many making the “bug-free” claim.

But, in the commercial setting of a restaurant or a catering commissary, it is not universally practical to use specially grown, pre-washed vegetables with a hechsher, so many kashrus agencies expect their mashgichim to prepare off-the-shelf vegetables that are “bug-free” when they may well have been riddled with insects from the start.

There are many scenarios where a mashgich’s checking will not always be successful in preparing the vegetables. There are pressures placed upon him in terms of volume and timing. There is the area where the checking is to be done, which may not always be adequate. There is always the possibility of human error. Finally, there are substitute mashgichim who are not yet adept at checking.

Well-run kashrus agencies assign special staff to check on the performance of their mashgichim in restaurant and at caterers. They will come, examine salad greens which were already checked by the mashgiach to see if he overlooked any insects.

 

 

 

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