Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, kosher food watchdog

Posted By on 05.26.11 at 01:00 PM

I 'm the kashruth, or kosher, administrator for the Chicago Rabbinical Council. We certify products, caterers, restaurants, and bakeries as kosher. Our rabbis check every single product to make sure it is what it says it is. Food science, chemistry, engineering—all of these things play a role. You walk into a factory that makes soy milk, and you have to understand the machine that makes it. You have to understand what steam infusion is, and steam traps, and what a water chill is. What are they using to heat it up? What are they using to cool it down?

Certain items need rabbinic involvement in the cooking itself. One way of doing this is to have a pilot light in the factory's ovens that never goes out; that way, the rabbi's always involved in the cooking. Another way is that every morning, one of our rabbis gets up early and calls on his cell phone to various factories, and that turns on their machines remotely.

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The biggest mistake people make, especially in America, is that they think that all "kosher" means is that the food is blessed. It has nothing to do with that. Also, people think that if it's kosher, it's healthy. The reason why kosher is so popular—by the way, close to 70 percent of the kosher market is not Jewish—is that they appreciate the fact that there's another pair of eyes watching all the ingredients and making sure they're up to par. That doesn't mean it's healthy. It could be high in fat or sugar.

When it comes to bugs, it's a very big problem. Last year there was a discovery that there are a lot of insects in raisins. This year we discovered a lot of worms in wild salmon and other fish. The latest one was finding a lot of little tiny insects in strawberries that were hiding underneath the seeds. Bring me broccoli you're about to eat, and I'll show you how many things are inside.

We've tried many ways to get bugs off, and really the only way is to find something that makes them slip off. They know how to dig in pretty well.

The purpose of life is to perfect ourselves. We believe a kosher lifestyle helps that. If you cannot eat everything you want every time you want it, you have to have self-control. It's a life lesson. We believe that you are what you eat, meaning you take on the characteristic of what you're eating. Kosher affects the personality, how you act and relate to others.

Jewish people who don't keep kosher? That's between them and God. We're not the kosher police.

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