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KOSHER BASICS A GUIDE FOR THE KOSHER HOME EMPLOYEE Presented by Star-K Certification
Well over one million Jewish consumers keep a kosher home--observing Jewish dietary laws that have been passed down over thousands of years.
Keeping kosher is an important part of the daily life of a Jew. Understanding the kosher basics will help you assure your observant employers or clients that their kosher practices will continue.
Kosher means “fit and proper”. It does not mean food blessed by a rabbi. Although kosher rules might seem very complicated at first, putting them into practice is like anything else that takes getting used to---- such as learning to drive a car.
THE BIG THREE Foods can be grouped into three broad categories: Always acceptable as kosher. Includes raw fruits & vegetables that have not been further processed. Never kosher. The Bible prohibits certain foods for Jews, including: shellfish, fish without both fins & scales, & pork. Kosher supervised. These foods may be kosher when produced under the authority of a rabbi or kosher certification agency to ensure ingredients & food processing procedures meet kosher dietary requirements.
In kosher products, all of the component ingredients are certified kosher, including any processing aids that contact the food. The production equipment must be kosher, too. Processed foods must be prepared under rabbinical supervision. To help the kosher consumer identify kosher foods, many certification agencies have put their trademarked symbols on their supervised products. These symbols include:
THE BIG FOUR All kosher foods can be grouped into four further categories, as well. MEAT: Meat, fowl, and their byproducts (e.g. soup, bones, or gravy) are referred to as “fleishig” or “basar”. Kosher fowl and meat (from animals that chew their cud and have split hooves), must come from a kosher species, and be slaughtered by specially trained ritual slaughterers. Cows, sheep, goats, and chicken are in this category.
DAIRY: This includes all foods derived from or containing milk, such as milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese. Even milk derivatives, such as casein and whey, are considered dairy when used in kosher foods. These foods are referred to as “milchig” or “chalav”. All dairy products require reliable kosher supervision.
FISH: Kosher fish must have fins and easily removable scales.
PAREVE: These neutral foods contain neither meat nor dairy, or their derivatives. They must also not have been prepared or processed with meat or dairy equipment. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, pasta, soft drinks, fish and eggs.
Speaking of eggs, eggs must be checked for blood spots, prior to cooking them, by breaking them one at a time, into a glass. According to kosher laws, an egg containing a blood spot may not be eaten. Only boiled eggs are allowed to be eaten without checking for blood spots.
Certain fruits, vegetables and grains must also be checked for the presence of small insects and larvae which would render them non-kosher. These include: Strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, dill, and parsley. In addition, Israeli produce is subject to special kosher rules.
More on the subject of pareve: Pareve foods can generally be served with either meat or dairy meals. If a pareve food is cooked in a meat pot, it should only be served on meat dishes with meat serving utensils & cutlery. If a pareve food is cooked in a dairy pot, it should only be served on dairy dishes with dairy serving utensils and cutlery. If you cut a sharp & spicy pareve food (e.g., onions, garlic, lemons, and pickles) with a meat knife, it is considered as having a meat status and may not be used with dairy foods, and vice versa when it comes to cutting one of these pareve foods with a dairy knife.
OTHER KOSHER RULES: Dairy & meat cannot be served together during the same meal. There is a waiting period (between 1-6 hours, according to custom) after eating meat before eating dairy, and after eating hard cheese before eating meat. Even though fish is pareve & may be eaten at both meat & dairy meals, at a meat meal it must be prepared and served with separate utensils. Fish may be eaten either before or after meat.
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL The kosher home has at least 2 sets of dishes, silverware, pots, pans, and utensils—one for meat, one for dairy. They are kept in separate cabinets & drawers, marked meat and dairy. There is often a color scheme in the kosher kitchen—e.g., red for meat, blue for dairy—to more easily tell all the meat & dairy items apart.
Since meat & dairy must be kept separate throughout the kosher kitchen, this also applies to the sink, tables, countertops, refrigerators and freezers, the stove top, the oven and broiler, portable electric broilers, small appliances, and dishwashers. Many kosher homes also have some separate pareve dishes, silverware, pots, pans, and utensils.
THE KITCHEN SINK IN THE KOSHER HOME The ideal situation in the kosher home is to have 2 separate sinks—one for meat, one for dairy—since these dishes & utensils cannot be washed together. If there is only one sink in which both meat & dairy dishes are washed, the inside of the sink is considered treif (non- kosher). Therefore, one set of dishes should be washed at a time, using separate dish pans atop slightly elevated meat & dairy racks. The sink should be scrubbed clean between washing each set of dishes. NO FOOD OR DISHES SHOULD BE PUT DIRECTLY INTO A SINK THAT IS USED TO WASH BOTH MEAT & DAIRY DISHES.
Additional kitchen rules: Dishes & utensils must be dried using separate racks or dishtowels. Separate meat & dairy sponges, scouring pads (which require certification if they contain soap), and draining boards must be used. Sponges & scouring pads used to clean a single sink must not be used on the dishes, silverware, pots, pans & utensils.
The Kosher Table A table can be used at different times for meat and dairy if different meat and dairy tablecloths or placemats are used.
The Kosher Countertop Different countertops or work areas are used for meat and dairy. Separate coverings must be used, if one area must be used for both.
Refrigerators and Freezers Both meat and dairy foods may be kept in refrigerators and freezers, but care should be taken to keep them in separate areas to avoid spillage. It is a good idea to mark the food put in the freezer to avoid meat-dairy mix- ups when it is defrosted.
The Stove Top Burners can be used for both meat and dairy, however, it is wise to avoid cooking meat and dairy foods at the same time since splattering can occur and hot steam can escape from one food to the other causing serious kashrus problems.
The Oven and Broiler Meat & dairy foods are never baked or broiled in the same oven or broiler at the same time. The kosher oven is designated for main usage—either meat or dairy—and the non-designated food is covered, when cooked/heated in it. Separate meat & dairy potholders are used to remove the food from inside the oven. Fish & meat also cannot be prepared at the same time in the oven or in pots.
Toaster Ovens Toaster ovens must be used for either meat or dairy, exclusively.
Microwaves The kosher microwave is designated for either meat or dairy and the non-designated type is double-wrapped before it is cooked/heated in the microwave.
Deep Fryers The same deep fryer cannot be used for both fish and meat.
Small Appliances Small appliances are designated for either meat, dairy, or pareve food preparation.
The Kosher Dishwasher Dishwashers must be used for either washing meat or dairy dishes and utensils, exclusively.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT A UTENSIL, APPLIANCE, OR FOOD THAT MIGHT HAVE BECOME TREIF (NON-KOSHER)? DO NOT PUT IT BACK IN THE CUPBOARD IF IT IS A DISH OR UTENSIL. DO NOT USE IT FURTHER IF IT IS AN APPLIANCE. DO NOT SERVE IT IF IT IS A FOOD. MOST IMPORTANTLY, DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL YOUR KOSHER EMPLOYERS OR CLIENTS ABOUT A KOSHER MIX-UP—THEY WILL PROBABLY THANK YOU FOR BRINGING IT TO THEIR ATTENTION!
Examples of the types of mistakes that can occur in a kosher kitchen: If you stir a pot of chicken soup with a dairy or pareve spoon. If you cut a piece of cheese with a meat or pareve knife. If a drop of milk spills into a pot of hot dogs cooking on the stove. If you topped a hamburger with cheese. If you heated up a piece of chicken in a dairy toaster oven.
If a mistake is made, your employer/client will need to consult a rabbi as soon as possible about what action must be taken on the pots, baking pans, and utensils, for advice about clearing up the issue. Put the questionable items aside, & remember the circumstances & details of the mistake: What type(s) of food, utensils, dishes or pots were involved? How was the food prepared? What was the approximate temperature of the food & utensils involved? When was the utensil in question last used prior to the mix-up? What was the amount of food involved?
REMEMBER: Although the ingredients may be entirely kosher, if they are cooked in the wrong type of pots or appliances, or stirred with the wrong type of utensils, they lose their kosher status. Similarly, if they are cooked in non- kosher pots & pans or in a non-kosher oven, or produced on machinery previously used for non-kosher food, the food loses its kosher status.
Kosher cooking must be initiated by your kosher employer/client. He or she must ignite the flame or turn on the electricity used to cook or heat up food you are preparing, whether it is through boiling, baking, frying, deep frying, or roasting. Microwaving is not included in this kosher law.
SPECIAL DAYS ON THE JEWISH CALENDAR THE SABBATH (a.k.a. Shabbos or Shabbat) The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday night & lasts until one hour after sundown on Saturday night. All Sabbath cooking must be done before Sabbath candle lighting time. These candles, over which prayers are said, should be left to burn out themselves. A festive meal is served on the Sabbath on a specially set table, as on Jewish holidays.
PASSOVER An 8-day Spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt to freedom & nationhood, that has unique kosher laws. Certain grain products & their derivatives may not be eaten on Passover, although they are kosher year round. Many communities do not eat legumes or their derivatives on Passover.
This means no bread or bread products, pizza, pasta, cereal, etc. are eaten or brought into the kosher house during the 8 days of Passover. Actually, once the kosher kitchen has changed over to a Kosher for Passover status (sometimes days before the Passover holiday), one should not bring in or eat non- Kosher for Passover food in the house until the kitchen has been changed back to a non- Passover status after the holiday.
ADDITIONAL KOSHER FOR PASSOVER RULES The equipment with which Kosher for Passover foods are prepared must also be Kosher for Passover, to be considered acceptable for eating on Passover. All processed & packaged foods must bear a reputable kosher symbol, as well as the letter “P” following the symbol, or the words, “Kosher for Passover”.
THE KOSHER KITCHEN UNDERGOES AN “EXTREME (CLEANING & KOSHERING) MAKEOVER” TO PREPARE IT FOR KOSHER FOR PASSOVER STATUS. All dishes & utensils used year round are stored away. Only special Passover dishes, silverware, & cookware, which were stored away throughout the rest of the year, are used each year during the holiday. They are stored in cabinets that were emptied & cleaned for Passover.
IN CONCLUSION, REMEMBER THESE RULES: If you are asked to shop for your employer/client, buy only in stores he or she chooses, and only those products, brands, and kosher certifications he or she prefers. Do not make changes without asking! Keep the kitchen set up the way your employer/client has set it up. Keep the kitchen utensils organized the way your employer/client has them organized. Kosher cooking must be initiated by your kosher employer/client. He or she must ignite the flame/turn on the electricity used to cook or heat up food you are preparing, whether it is through boiling, broiling, baking, frying, deep frying, or roasting. Microwaving is not included in this kosher law. When you clean up after the meal, keep in mind meat and dairy separation. If you are unclear about any of the kosher rules, ask your employer/client to explain them to you. Don’t be afraid to let your employer/client know if there has been a kosher mix-up.