Mashgichim are on the move throughout Texas, Southwest
By Deb Silverthorn
The range of kosher grocery products is growing, and that means more delicious foods on the tables of both kashrut-observant and nonkosher households alike.
The labels are stamped with the respected markings of DK (Dallas Kosher/Vaad Hakashrus of Dallas), CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council), KOF-K, Star K and OU (Orthodox Union) — all with DFW-area representation, as well as other symbols of kosher certification.
DK, recognized for its work locally through the restaurants, markets and organizations that provide kosher foods, is also dedicated to supporting its commercial accounts.
According to the certification agencies, companies choose kosher certification for many reasons. For some it is the extra push to get exposure in the competitive world of supermarket shelves. For others it is a mark of excellence as seen by the public. Other items are sent to hospitals, hotels, businesses, even jails and other locations where Jews are being served.
Established in 1965, Dallas Kosher is the oldest kosher certification program in the Southwest. In addition to local restaurants and grocers, DK now has more than 70 commercial accounts, with Rabbis Sholey Klein and David Shawel, and Office Manager David Geldman, continuing the legacy that is recognized and approved by major certifying agencies around the world.
“Most of those behind our commercial accounts are not educated in the mitzvah, in the reasons for kashrut, but they know this — a more than $24 billion [kashrut] industry is good for business,” said DK’s Kashrus Administrator Klein, with DK since 1996. The rabbi also serves on the alcohol approval committee of the Association for Kashrus Organizations, of which DK is a member. “Statistics show that consumers, Jewish or not, appreciate the ‘extra set of eyes’ on a product. They know a kosher seal is one they can count on,” he added.
DK’s diverse clientele includes everything from seasonings and milk products to coffees, flavorings and more. One company, BuzzBallz/Southern Champion, is a family-operated Texas distillery and winery.
“From very early on, we thought kosher certification was important. Maintaining our kosher certification touches all areas of our operations, from ingredient selection to scheduling, best manufacturing practices and consumer communication,” said owner Merilee Kick, who founded the company in 2009.
“Operating a kosher-certified facility making kosher-certified beverages showed that, even though we were new, we prioritized product quality,” said Kick. “We jumped head-first into learning the standards we need to adhere to. The team at Dallas Kosher, who educated and assisted us in implementing policies and procedures to make sure we live up to those standards, continues to help us adapt our practices to not only meet the high bar of kosher certification but to also help us improve our business.”
DK’s Facebook page features Shawel’s selfies, taken at almost any location he visits. Throughout Texas and across the borders to other states, the rabbi’s supervisory role has earned him many smiles.
“I recently did a bris in Amarillo in the morning, a visit to a dairy right after, then to a plant in Lubbock and then home to supervise the meals of a full weekend of wedding festivities in Dallas,” said Shawel. “It’s always something unique, it’s always intense but in the very best way, and this job is always a bracha.”
Kosher translates as “fit,” meaning pure, proper or suitable for consumption. In addition to Jews, Muslims and some Christian groups, including Seventh-Day Adventists, choose kosher foods.
Rabbi Raanan Broderick is a regional mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, who has worked with the Chicago Rabbinical Council and Star-K certification programs for 10 years. Among his accounts are trailer washes (a thorough, kosher-approved method of cleansing the inside of a truck so that the kosher foods placed therein will remain kosher) as well as a variety of plants that include dairy, freeze-dried fruits, tortillas, chemicals that are included in food, condiments and honey producers.
“Many of my accounts are million-dollar, and even billion-dollar, corporations, and every move is planned well in advance and recorded, so there is little room for change and even less room for error,” said Broderick. “Still, I once encountered a situation where chocolate milk was being enriched with a nonkosher gelatin ingredient, not at anyone’s intention, but through my supervision the issue was realized and resolved.
“This is truly a people person’s job because the companies I work with have a choice whether or not to go kosher, and a lot of that depends on their relationship with the mashgiach,” said Dallas-based Broderick, whose road trips take him throughout Texas as well as to Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and beyond. “Instead of needing to check every single ingredient, I can look at a list and identify what can be problematic and I’m looking for what doesn’t belong.”
Each of the local supervising agencies makes visits throughout the region, often unannounced, while also working remotely. Their work is also enhanced with applications such as DigitalKosher, which makes the kosher certification process paperless, efficient and secure. The kashrut agencies often communicate with one another and, if it’s known that one’s calendar has a visit scheduled near the facility of another, they may cover for each other.
Some facilities require monthly visits, many less frequently. As ingredients change, and even the most minute of manufacturing processes too, companies must notify the agencies to be certain they continue to meet kosher standards.
The three mashgichim said they treasure the relationships built between the agency representatives and their accounts.
“I love this work; it is truly the passion of my life,” said Shawel, DK’s director of supervision. “It’s nothing less than an incredible honor to take the Shulchan Aruch, our code of Jewish law, and apply it every day to this very holy work.”