Generating more than $12 billion in annual sales in the US, the kosher category continues to grow. Worldwide, research group Packaged Facts estimates that sales of certified kosher foods swelled from nearly $150 billion in 2003 to more than $300 billion today. Halal is also a rapidly growing category. According to various sources, the US halal market is estimated as nearly equaling the kosher market in annual sales.

Today, more than 12 million American consumers actively select kosher-certified food products for reasons unrelated to dietary laws. About as many more seek other, similar religious certifications. According to OU Kosher, the world’s most recognized kosher certification, this group purchases kosher food products for health, food safety, taste, vegetarianism, lactose intolerance, and dietary restrictions.

These figures, plus those of foods and beverages coming under other religious authorities, such as Seventh-Day Adventists (strict vegetarians, no alcohol or caffeine) are offering unprecedented opportunities for food processors everywhere. Although adopting kosher or other religious certification should occur only when a company’s profits can exceed the costs of such production, history has demonstrated that, in most cases, the benefits do outweigh the added expenses.This is further proved by the fact that around three quarters of food and beverage items wear some form of kosher certification.

Jewish law offer several foundational elements for keeping kosher. Avoiding non-kosher animals, such as pigs, or ingredients from/specific parts of an animal that is kosher (e.g. the hindquarter or the blood of beef, lamb, goat or other permitted mammal) is the best known rule set. Even ingredients such as sausage casings, gelatin from animal sources or even calcium-based ingredients must be kosher.

Preparing or consuming meat and dairy items together is forbidden, and a person must wait for a designated time period before switching from dairy to meat consumption and vice-versa. Only fish with both fins and scales are acceptable. Shellfish, mollusks and fish without scales, such as catfish, swordfish or shark, are forbidden.

A designation of pareve is given to nonmeat and nondairy items, as well as fish or eggs. Since the latter must be separately labeled in America, many vegetarians and vegans look for the pareve designation for the assurance that an item is absolutely free of animal-derived ingredients.

But a word of caution is needed: While it is easy to deduce food safety and nutrition factors that bring logic to the religious laws—and, indeed, those factors turn out to be what drives the majority of consumers to seek such certifications—at the core, it is exclusively the spiritual component that drives them when it comes to the certifications. For an unfamiliar processor, a particular rule might seem illogical but that rule will be unavoidable.

The key to successful implementation of religious certification is to understand and demonstrate extensive respect for the consumer. It is thus imperative to have on staff or on call someone with complete understanding the origin of the laws and precepts, without judgment, and verifiable qualifications. All parties must strictly adhere—and be able to continue to adhere—to all the rules and regulations for food development and certification. For kashrut and halal, this commonly is in the form of a specially trained clergyman.

Devil in the Details

With so many rules and regulations, processors can sometimes get mired in certain details. For example, kashrut—the set of Jewish laws determining whether a food, a utensil (or any item that comes in contact with a consumable item or an item or object that comes in contact with the body), or items used in ritual—demands, among many other rules, the strict separation of meat and dairy. Halal rules do not. The only seafood considered kosher is that from fish with fins and scales, making all forms of mollusks and shellfish prohibited. Halal allows such seafood. [Halal allows catfish and shark, too, where kashrut does not.].

It’s clear that complex details make it possible for some items to be halal but not kosher, whereas nearly all kosher items are accepted according to the rules of halal. In fact, Muslims account for at least 16% of the kosher market because of limited availability of halal products in most areas.

An exception to the halal acceptance of kosher is alcohol. Halal does not permit alcohol consumption and this includes foods made with alcohol, such as certain sauces. But for alcohol-containing products to be kosher, the original alcohol-based ingredient must also be kosher.

“At Rich Products Corp., the commitment is to serving various consumer needs with its broad range of toppings, creams and culinary solutions,” Chris Tirone, director of new product and platform development for Rich’s. “Our toppings and icings portfolio includes products that meet kosher, kosher dairy, non-dairy and in some cases stringent pareve requirements.”

Tirone notes that the programs Rich’s had to establish needed to be of the strictest parameters to ensure that the company’s toppings, icings and culinary solutions are produced in a safe and clean environment. The extra lengths to which the company goes to do this are necessary in order to eliminate any risk of contamination or product inconsistencies. “This is imperative when manufacturing products that follow guidelines of inflexible dietary restriction,” Tirone states.

Yehudith Girshberg, co-owner of De La Rosa Real Foods & Vineyards Ltd., agrees. “Kosher certification is very important to manufacturers who wish to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of consumers who feel that it is in their best interests to buy a product that is kosher certified,” she says. “This includes not just Jewish consumers, but also people who keep halal rules and other consumers who feel that the addition of a kosher certification is important in and of itself as representing a higher measure of care.”

Spirit of the Law

While it must be stressed that, from a rabbinical point of view (and contrary to many opinions), the kosher laws are purely spiritual in intent, the overwhelming numbers of consumers seeking out the various marks on the label designating an item as kosher demonstrate that the association between kashrut and increased food safety is unavoidable. Even Hebrew National brand kosher products (now owned by ConAgra Foods Inc.) acknowledged such indirectly with its popular “We answer to a higher authority” marketing campaign.

Methods of food handling and preparation are what can make kosher manufacturing a complicated undertaking, even when the ingredients involved are indisputably kosher, as in the case of produce. Moreover, the level of scrutiny afforded ingredients, equipment and processes for kosher certification are typically stricter than food safety and sanitation or organic parameters most facilities already have in place.

It is for this reason so many non-Jewish consumers rely on kosher certification as a reassurance that every step of every process has been supervised with painstaking attention to detail.

To enter this lucrative market, a processor must begin by obtaining a kosher certification that is widely accepted. According to Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, this is the first step—and best chance—for the product to be successful.

“This requires the expertise and knowledge of a professional who is familiar with the kosher market,” says Lubinksky. “Assuming that the product is unique and not already well duplicated in the kosher market, distribution is key. Finally, once the product is on the shelf, it is important to have a program that targets the kosher consumer so that there is awareness about the product and its uses.”

According to Joe Regenstein, PhD, emeritus professor of food sciences and head of the Cornell Kosher Food Initiative, creating a successful line of kosher foods is not so much about food safety. “It is about equipment kosherization and ingredient tracing,” he says. Regenstein also points out the importance of providing blueprints that match what’s really occurring in the manufacturing facility.

“If the blueprints in a plant are different than what’s on the floor, companies are going to have a problem.” So what begins as an inspection may spread to an issue of trust. Plus, if information like this is passed on to the media, that can mean trouble for the food processor.

Sometimes, the laws can make it impossible for multiple or combined certifications. For example, in addition to halal acceptance of shellfish and mixed meat and dairy products, while halal accepts kosher meats as fit, the reverse is not permitted. This is based on methods of handling and slaughter of the animal.

Cross Contamination

“Vegetables and fruits, especially raw produce that will be processed at the facility and not by the end user, take a higher level of scrutiny,” explains Rabbi Reuven Flamer, founder and director of the kosher/natural/organic product certification outfit, Natural Food Certifiers Inc. (NFC). “With produce, one of the main risks is that of whole insects being in the ingredient. This is especially critical for fruits and vegetables that are especially attractive to insects or are hard to clean.”

According to Flamer, the standard for kashrut is stricter than USDA standards. “There must be certainty there is no infestation at all of bugs,” he says. “There’s no wiggle room when it comes to insects.” For smaller manufacturing facilities, it’s possible to hand-check the product, where it’s commonly held under lights or at least over a well-lit prep table.

“For a larger facility, it must be done on a case-by-case basis, and as deemed most effective for that case by the certifier himself,” says Flamer. “Factors to be considered will include the source and the nature of the product, especially how likely it is for bugs to ‘get lost’ in the item, and how that ingredient is produced.”
There are considerations beyond ingredients when looking at religious certifications. Even if all the ingredients are kosher, issues with utensils, preparation surfaces and equipment can prevent the certification of the final product. And this doesn’t only apply to the stringent separation of meat and dairy ingredients and equipment. All products have their specific and strict designations.

A common example Flamer refers to is a steam-jacketed kettle system. Even the steam running from one kettle to another can render the whole system meat, or dairy, or pareve, or not kosher at all. What went into one kettle determines them all. “It’s not just what the eye can see, but what’s on a molecular level that determines the status of the equipment or utensil,” says Flamer. “Also, if heat or acid—a marinade, a brine—sits for more than 24 hours in a container or vessel or in contact with a surface or utensil, that item picks up the kosher designation of that ingredient.”

“For an example, if you are cooking a fruit sauce, which is pareve by nature, if the plant also is running cheese or other dairy sauce in the same kettle, the fruit sauce will pick up the designation of the item that was in there before and be considered as dairy or have a ‘DE,’ dairy equipment designation,” explains Flamer. “If the company has a natural pareve product, it is in the best interests of that company to have designated equipment just as it would for meat and dairy.”

To kasher (“kosherize”) a facility requires that the ovens and all machinery sit idle for twenty-four hours followed by a kosherization process where the heat is turned up to extremely high temperatures, sometimes in excess of 900°F (for example, in the case of an open-flame grill)to be considered kosher. “And all utensils and equipment, even if brand new, anything that will be in contact with hot food or acidic food must be kashered before use,” Flamer adds. To be kosher, Flamer continues, it would have to be kashered the way it was “unkashered,” such as through boiling, steaming or baking or even direct flame (as from a blowtorch), and all under supervision and inspection from the certifier,” Flamer clarifies.

Since for industry, kosherization does not take place unless the equipment is purged and receives a 24-hour down time, if a company is running a 24-7 operation even the slightest mistake can cause unwanted delays and unexpected costs. Moreover, there are some utensils, equipment and surfaced that can never be rendered kosher if contaminated by contact with nonkosher ingredients. Wood cannot be practically kashered. Nor can porous plastic or many types of china.

Hold the Sausage

While millions of consumers opt to follow strict dietary laws, it’s not uncommon for them to seek out foods that non-observers enjoy like pizza, cereal, and other everyday products. And sometimes, the more a permitted food resembles a non-permitted one, the more attractive it can be. Mock shellfish and fake pork products have proven to be popular items, providing the thrill and flavor of the forbidden in a perfectly “legal” (and healthful) format.

Both animal-protein analog makers Gardein, by Pinnacle Foods LLC, and Morningstar Farms, by the Kellogg Co., have Orthodox Union (OU) kosher-certified versions of items such as pork sausages, bacon, crab cakes, shredded pork, barbecue spare ribs and pork meatballs. And some manufacturers of the imitation crab legs known as surimi and made from pressed pollock have switched to flavoring them with fish juice instead of crab juice, and coloring them with non-carmine colorants to make them certifiable.

As a side note, carmine is an excellent example of the minefield that can make navigating kosher or Seventh Day Adventist and other vegetarian certifications tricky. Also known as Red 4, carmine coloring is a common red food lake made from the powdered scales of the cochineal beetle, an insect, and therefore not kosher or suitable for vegetarians.

Pizza is a mainstream comfort food that, while easy to find as kosher in larger communities with significant Jewish populations, is a rare treat elsewhere. There are a few brands of frozen pizzas that are kosher, but selections are highly limited. Last summer, Kayco Co.’s Kedem Food Products, the world’s largest kosher and specialty foods company, launched a premium line of thin crust café-style artisanal pizza.

Imported from Italy, the Tuscanini Premium Handmade Pizza comes in a variety of wood-fired options and in a flatbread option as well. All the pizzas are certified kosher by the OU. The company claims that the Tuscanini brand is the “first and only real Italian kosher pizza” on the market. And like its non-kosher counterpart, the dough is, according to Charles Herzog who heads the new item development team at Kayco, “hand-stretched and baked in a wood-fired brick over using only the finest Italian ingredients.”

The company even made the decision to adhere to a much stricter level of kashrut for dairy, that of “Cholov Yisroel.” In this case, Kayco opted for a special production of the mozzarella cheese. For Cholov Yisroel, every aspect of a dairy item must be supervised and scrutinized by rabbinical authority.

Herzog adds that Kayco sends rabbis to farms in Milano, Italy, noteworthy because it demonstrates the firm’s open and steady commitment to being a trusted provider of foods that adhere to the strictest certification process possible. “We have team of rabbis that starts out at the dairy farms at 4:00AM for the first milking,” he says. “We make our rounds of four separate dairy farms, since we are insistent on small, quality farms where we achieve a high qualify milk for a premium cheese.”

The certification process at Kayco continues when the rabbis transport the milk in sealed vats to a small cheese plant. The tanks, and the full production line, are kosherized according to the strictest kosher standards. “We then have fresh Italian mozzarella cheese ready for our pizza production just two days later,” adds Herzog. “At the pizza plant, the full production line is cleaned and kosherized a day prior to production.”

As for the other ingredients, Kayco continues its focus on quality. For their premium pizzas, for example, they import mushrooms from a company in Holland to ensure the fungi are clean and not infested with any insects. The tomato paste is produced with a special kosher certification at a separate Italian Kosher plant and then brought in for the pizza.

“At all times, the full production is supervised by a team of two rabbis ensuring that all kosher laws are adhered to and fully enforced,” said Herzog. In addition, the factory is BRC certified, IFS certified and bears a 9001 ISO certification.

Halal Opens Up

Processors prepared to invest in producing products for those who keep kosher may also want to create foods for Muslim populations who observe halal dietary laws. Essentially, halal is a term referring to what is “permissible” to eat and drink according to Islamic law, not unlike what kosher means in terms of what is allowed under Jewish law.

Under halal dietary laws, no pork, blood or alcohol may be consumed and any meat or meat-derived ingredients (such as gelatin or rennet) must be derived from animals raised and slaughtered in accordance with halal protocols.

The Halal Research Council asserts that halal certification encompasses several steps, including ingredient verification, inspection/audit and approval by committee. And while all halal-certified products are halal, not all halal products are halal-certified.

The organization also emphasizes that each halal food market is unique based on culture, location, income per capita, and other factors. This should be taken into account before a processor makes an investment in certification and product development.

Halal certifiers, located throughout the world, provide certification that a food or food product is halal, the best way, according to John Umlauf, senior vice president, culinary operations, American Halal Co. Inc., Saffron Road Foods, which recently acquired Mediterranean Snack Foods Co. LLC. “Once a certifier has been chosen it is very important to work closely with one’s production facilities to ensure that proper identify and segregation protocols are in place, much as organic or gluten-free programs might operate,” Umlauf says.

Manufacturers of foods that adhere to halal laws also must establish stringent pre-operational procedures, like swab testing the processing equipment so that no protein residues are present. “Such residues would be clear signs of potential cross-contamination from non-halal ingredients, especially if any meat, poultry or animal-derived ingredients have been processed on that line,” adds Umlauf.

Some certifiers will prohibit the production of halal foods in any plant that processes pork. But with modern cleansing and testing procedures, in combination with strict identity and segregation programs carefully placed within a robust food safety and quality regime, such objections, according to Umlauf, can often be overcome and the certifier can be satisfied that no chance of cross contamination exists.

In addition to the tradition of halal, “tayeeb,” which means “wholesome, humane, natural, organic, or raised without antibiotics” is the holistic part of Islamic tradition. “Tayeeb has not received as much attention as it should and, for many American Muslims, this is as central to their moral compass as the harvesting method,” Umlauf pointed out.

In spite of the great number of American Muslim and natural foods consumers with clear preference for the ethical consumerism embodied in halal-tayeeb standards (like Saffron Road’s), to date only a few halal certifiers have embraced this aspect of halal. “It is typically up to the food brand to ‘walk the walk’ of humanely raised livestock, sustainable farming practices, ethical business practices, fair trade and natural, wholesome ingredients,” added Umlauf.

Such ethical commitment has become a bigger part of the food business in the past decade, so it can be expected that the values of halal-tayeeb will be better understood within the context of the larger culture of the “ethical consumption” of food.

The numbers continue to look good: according to ResearchMoz’ market research report “Global Halal Food Market 2012-2016: Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast,” the global halal food market will experience a combined annual growth rate of 4.44% through 2016. Researchers attribute the growth to a growing global Muslim population with increased spending power.

One other aspect of developing and manufacturing foods with these special certifications is imperative. Companies currently producing or desiring to produce specialty foods for kosher, halal or similar markets should keep a watchful —and engaging—eye on sources of information coming from the respective authorizing bodies.

These are available through websites and social media. They are an excellent way of keeping abreast of the small changes and additions to rules, regulations and processes. More and more processors are discovering that the added costs of implementing and maintaining such certifications are well worth the expenditure.


Originally appeared in the February, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Keep it Kosher.

Seventh-Day Opportunities

Although the Adventist church promotes a well-balanced vegetarian lifestyle, contrary to popular belief, followers of this faith are not forced to be vegetarians. Some Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) will eat “clean” meats, such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, venison, lamb, and goat. Unclean meats are seldom eaten, since SDA follow the health laws found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Tobacco, alcohol and other mind-altering substances are prohibited.


In 2013, Natural Food Certifiers Inc. (NFC), a kosher/natural/organic product certification program, inaugurated its GMO (genetically modified organisms) product verification program, called “GMO Guard.” While NFC’s food certification programs already include full kosher certification under its “Apple K” label, it also ensures USDA Organic certification, vegan certification and its own “Gluten Guard” gluten-free assurance program, the new program “ensures that all retail NFC Kosher-certified products are organic and do not contain GMO’s,” according to founder and director, Rabbi Reuven Flamer.

“By offering a portfolio of certification programs valued by natural and organic products consumers, NFC provides cost-effective, simultaneous, turnkey solutions for food manufacturers seeking to assure their customers who seek purer quality products than those offered by the mainstream market,” says Flamer. NFC was the first certifier to provide ‘Natural Only’ kosher supervision. Of the new program, he adds that, “by granting certification only to those products that are GMO-free, the Apple K is adhering to its principle of ‘Begin Naturally; Stay that Way’.”

Flamer further explains that rejecting for kosher certification any products containing GMOs is a “logical addition” to the outfit’s kosher supervision. “While a GMO food ingredient is not prohibited according to the strict letter of kosher food laws, it cannot be considered natural. There is a Torah-based law to ‘guard one’s health.’ Since GMO’s are the primary growing concern among health-conscious consumers and businesses in the natural and organic food markets, as well as in the conventional food industry, there is good reason for our not certifying them.”

Although still controversial, recent studies purport to show GMO’s could cause various health problems, from digestive disturbances to food allergies. Also, some GMO’s require specific herbicidal treatments, something Flamer notes is “ironic, because GMO’s were touted to be environmentally helpful.” The upshot is, with so much concern and so many unknowns, an argument can be made that if there is a possibility of harm, caution is required.

Adds Flamer, “For so many reasons—physical, environmental, and perceived—GMOs raise a red flag for consumers; they simply don’t want them in their foods. Our clients want to accommodate these customers.” For that reason alone, NFC determined its Apple-K Kosher Certification program would not accept applications from manufacturers seeking kosher certification for products containing GMOs.

Hopping Trend

While the insect-derived cochineal dye Red 4 (carmine) can cause unintended issues with kosher, Seventh Day Adventist or vegetarian certification, not all bugs are prohibited when it comes to the rules of kosher. Certain grasshoppers and crickets are permitted by the Biblical rules against eating creepy crawlies. To that end, an innovative Israeli company jumped at the edible insect trend currently sweeping the country in the form of cricket flour-based products.

Two-year-old TzarTzar Ltd. (tzar is Hebrew for “cricket”) cofounders Dror Tamir, Ben Friedman, and Chanan Aviv applied extensive research and painstaking development to create and market edible grasshoppers, some with kosher certification. They even brought in world-renowned entomologist Yael Heifetz, PhD, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to help.

Interviewed for the Israeli tech site Israel21C (, Tamir explained that, as a rich and abundant alternate protein source, grasshoppers “have the greatest potential because they are the most edible insect around the world.” He notes that about 1 billion people worldwide eat them.

Describing grasshoppers as “picky herbivores,” Tamir says that this quality gives the critters their “excellent nutritional profile.” Steak TzarTzar has begun commercialization and is upscaling to develop industrial-scale grasshopper farms. Tamir reports that the company has received pre-orders from rom retailers and distributors worldwide. For more information, visit their site at

Seventh-Day Opportunities

Although the Adventist church promotes a well-balanced vegetarian lifestyle, contrary to popular belief, followers of this faith are not forced to be vegetarians. Some Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) will eat “clean” meats, such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, venison, lamb, and goat. Unclean meats are seldom eaten, since SDA follow the health laws found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Tobacco, alcohol and other mind-altering substances are prohibited.