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A restaurant has a sign on its window, or a notation in an advertisement, indicating that it's under the kashrus certification of Rabbi So-and-so or Agency Such-and-such. The first time someone walks into the restaurant, he will ask to see the t'uda, the certificate from that rabbi or agency, and won't eat there if it can't be produced. (Not everyone will do this, presumably, but I know a good number of people who will.)

However, that same person will walk into a supermarket, find a new (to him) product on the shelf with a reliable kashrus certification mark on it, purchase it, and eat it. He won't call the company and ask for a copy of the certification, or call the certifying agency and ask for confirmation of certification. (Again, some people will, but I think there are many who will skip this step for a product even though they follow it for a restaurant.)

Why the double standard?

Is it simply, as I suspect, a matter of ease: that it's easy to confirm certification for a restaurant (since the certificate is generally on the premises) but hard for a product? Or is there something else to it?

And if it is simply a question of ease, then which of the following is true?

  • Really, there's no need to see the certificate, but since it's so easy we do so in a restaurant to be extra-careful.
  • Really, one should preferably (or one must??) see the certificate, but since it's so hard we don't bother for a product.
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You don't even have to call the company. The reputable kosher certification agencies have lists of all the products they certify available on their website. It is usually searchable. –  Menachem Jul 18 '11 at 22:34
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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/13794. –  msh210 Feb 1 '12 at 7:21
    
I don't get the question. How is a teudah different than a Kashrus symbol (meaning that just like I require a kashrus symbol on a factory product, I require one on the store)? It's just that a resteraunt can have a larger one. –  Shmuel Brin Jan 27 '13 at 7:57
    
@ShmuelBrin, a t'uda is signed. Putting an "OU" on your product is like putting a claim in your restaurant that you're under supervision of the OU. –  msh210 Jan 27 '13 at 15:53
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One can forge a Teuda also. An OU is more like a Teuda (they both rely on copyright law). Relying on a restaurant's claim is more like relying on a "K" –  Shmuel Brin Jan 28 '13 at 23:32

4 Answers 4

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+250

I think the issue is not so much ease of verification as much as it is ease of forgery. It's a lot easier for a restaurant to lie and state on a sign that it is Kosher than it is for them to forge a certificate from a certifying agency and also have someone at the phone ready to lie and give false answers should someone call the number printed on the certificate.

It's also much harder, by orders of magnitude, for a company to run an entire line of product with a false Kashruth label that they might then be forced to pull off of supermarket shelves and reprint/relabel, possibly costing them the entire run of their product if it's a perishable item. Instances of error and/or fraud in product labeling occur almost daily, so it's certainly not impossible, but it's a tremendous burden every time it happens.

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I've also seen restaurants with expired letters of certification hanging up. It doesn't necessarily mean that they were deliberately trying to fool people, but it does mean that a person shouldn't take the kashrut certificate at face value. –  Menachem Jul 18 '11 at 22:32

Factory products are produced by big companies and are produced in bulk, which are scared to put a trademarked symbol on their product when everyone could see it, because they will be the subject of a huge lawsuit.

Small restaurants may be more willing to take the risk, and may hope that nobody notices their infringement.

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not only are willing to take the risk, but history has proved that is far more common for this to happen in restaurants –  Avraham Jul 19 '11 at 9:23
    
This is basically the same answer as Seth J's, but I'm accepting that one instead of this one because of slight differences (e.g., this one suggests a manufacturer will be sued, whereas the other answer suggests it'll merely need to issue a recall, which seems to me more likely). –  msh210 Aug 30 '11 at 0:23

I think many people tend to check ingredients anyway for new products, since they are accustomed to many products with incorrect kosher labels. A quick visit to kashrut.com shows just how many products have incorrect kosher identifications on a regular basis, and one of the ways of catching those mistakes is by checking the ingredients. And since R. Moshe wrote that one can trust the ingredients list of a company (see YD 1:55) that probably explains the practice to just check ingredients and not call the certifying agency (unless something in the ingredients looks amiss), whereas by a restaurant one cannot rely on an ingredients list.

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Do you actually scan the ingredients list of every packaged product you buy at the store? That doesn't sound practical. If we can't trust the symbols to be accurate, what good are they? The instances of mislabeling are not all that common, and, my impression is, less common the more widespread a product is. I just subscribe to Kashrut.com's list and scan for any products that I ever buy, which I almost never find. –  Isaac Moses Jul 18 '11 at 18:58
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I scan ingredients for new products, not the ones I buy week in and week out. You are of course right mislabeling is not common on widespread products, but that wasn't what I was talking about. I'm talking about new products that just appeared and you are buying for the first time. Many people I know scan the ingredients in that case -- that's how a lot of the alerts on sits like kashrut.com get there, thanks to consumers scanning ingredients and then calling up the kashrus agencies. –  Curiouser Jul 18 '11 at 19:25
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In addition, scanning ingredients on packages with an OUD often reveals that the products are actually just dairy equipment. In personal correspondence, the OU's "webbe rebbe" informed me that I can rely on ingredients lists for ascertaining dairy-equipment status. –  Curiouser Jul 18 '11 at 19:26
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The tshuva is talking about a case when someone wrote to the company asking if the oil is vegetable or animal, and also wrote that he will get sick if it is from animal products. There is no heter to look at normal ingredients because according to American law one doesn't have to write on which Keilim were the products made (were they koshered or not). –  Shmuel Brin Jul 18 '11 at 20:24
    
@tom: The keilim would have been a problem in the case R. Moshe dealt with also, but we have a general principle of stam keileihim b'chezkas eino ben yomo which is presumably why R. Moshe didn't think it was a problem. In any case, the tshuva lists a number of reasons to allow the products -- including fear of penalties for false ingredients. So I don't know why you assume that one of the many reasons (writing to the company about being sick) is the main reason. I think the sense of the tshuva that I conveyed that one can trust ingredients (in general) is correct. –  Curiouser Jul 19 '11 at 6:56

From this article:

In July 1992, New Jersey’s Supreme Court overturned state kosher regulations that defined kosher in terms of “orthodox Hebrew religious requirements,” ruling that it violated the constitutional prohibition on the establishment of religion.

New Jersey now operates under a “full disclosure scheme,” whereby manufacturers or purveyors of kosher food must fill out forms indicating what they sell and under whose authority. The forms are filed with the state and posted for public view, so consumers can decide for themselves whether to patronize the establishment.

The disclosure form is careful not to make religious judgments. Purveyors must state, for example, whether they sell pork or shellfish, or mix milk and meat, but they can still call themselves kosher, as long as they don’t conceal these facts.

“You can put down absolutely anything in the world you want,” said Rabbi Yakov Dombroff, who has headed New Jersey’s Bureau of Kosher Enforcement since 1986. “Literally, pork could be kosher. The state has no interest in what you call kosher, as long as you’re in compliance with the disclosure.”

As the article explains, this is also the case in New York and Baltimore. Since the article is a couple years old, it may also be the case in Georgia by now, and who knows how many other states.

(Sue Fishkoff goes through the history of this Supreme Court decision in her book, Kosher Nation)

So basically, just because a restaurant says it is Kosher is no guarantee that it is actually Kosher.

On the other hand, the major reliable Kashrut organizations policies are well known, easily accessible, and consistent. Once you do some research on the Kashrut Organizations policies (usually all available online) and figure out if they line up with your Kashrut sstandards, you can decide if you will eat the food with that hechsher.

For example, The OU relies on a leniency of R' Soleveitchik and does not require a constant Mashgiach for fish processing (except for Pesach), whereas the Star-K does not rely on this leniency, and does require a constant Mashgiach for fish processing. (I just linked to the policy. Sue Fishkoff mentions that the OU rely on a leniency from R' Soleveitchik, but I haven't found this explicitly, although it is also mentioned here.)

So, before you go to the store you know that the OU certifies tuna without a constant Mashgiach. If you're alright with that, you will buy OU certified tuna. If not, you won't. But you know going into the store exactly what to expect from tuna with an OU certification, since the OU's policy is well known, easily accessible, and consistent.

Kashrut organization rely on trademark protection to ensure compliance. For example, the OU symbol is trademarked, and the OU gives permission to companies who comply with their guidelines to put the symbol on the product. An unauthorized OU is a trademark violation and the OU can force the company to recall all the products with the unauthorized OU, at great expense to the company. This helps prevent fraudulent claims of Kashrut, and furthers our trust in the reliability of the hechsher.


All that being said, when encountering a new product, I think the consumer should always proceed with caution. If it sounds to good to be true, it may well be. One should check with the website of the Kosher organization and see if the product is truly certified. Products are sometimes accidentally mislabeled, and alerts are issued to let you know.

Even once you know a product is kosher, you should still verify that the hechsher is still on the packaging, since products lose or change their hechsher all the time. It may also happen that some production runs of the product are certified, and some aren't.

Also, depending on personal stringencies, it may happen that someone won't eat certain products from a perfectly reputable Kashrut organization. For example, if someone strictly eats Bishul Yisroel, he should check the ingredients to ensure that the Kosher product does not need to be Bishul Yisroel before he eats it (e.g. corn chips).

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This is interesting, but I'm not seeing how it directly addresses my question. –  msh210 Jul 19 '11 at 4:44
    
@msh210: Why check restaurant? Due to state law, Kosher documentation is meaningless in some states, so you have to check to make sure it is reliably certified. Why don't people check new products? They've established a trust in the Kosher certifying agency. However when encountering a new product one really shouldn't be complacent and passive in his acceptance of a Kosher certification, but check to make sure he can really eat it. –  Menachem Jul 19 '11 at 5:53
    
If you contact a company which has just a K (i.e. Jell-o) they will be happy to send you a formal letter regarding their hashgacha. There are plenty of rabbis (including the Rabbanut in Israel) that allow gelatin. So the K on many products does indeed mean something, although I'm sure there are some unscrupulous companies that misuse it. –  Curiouser Jul 19 '11 at 7:01
    
@Curiouser: It doesn't have the OU because In the United States, almost all kashrut organizations accept the stricter opinion and do not endorse gelatin made from unkosher derivatives. ---- ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php/127/Q1 (see page 12 of here, as well: thehalacha.com/attach/Volume5/Issue3.pdf). That being said, it is possible that Planters does have a different hashgacha for the gelatin products, I just assumed they didn't. I'll remove that section from my answer. –  Menachem Jul 19 '11 at 7:45

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