The Winnipeg Free Press ran an op-ed Sunday that alleges extremely serious lapses on the part of the OU, lapses that may mean you ate non-kosher food…
THROUGHOUT the 1990s, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. sold as kosher fish that wasn't, well, kosher. It should have been a scandal, but it wasn't because word never got out.
Even today, if you call the president and CEO of FFMC, as I did, you will find that he knows nothing about it -- he arrived long after this took place and it seems no one with knowledge of it has seen reason to tell the new boss.
So why raise the issue today, more than seven years after it was hushed up?
Because the federal Conservative government has commissioned a comprehensive study of the Crown corporation's less-than-stellar operation, which was created in the late '60s to market all of the catch of the inland fishery. In fact, the George Morris Centre, an international research organization, has recently completed this study and hopefully it will be released soon.…
The FFMC is the largest North American supplier of fish minced to produce kosher fish called "gefilte fish." Its plant is certified by the Orthodox Union (OU), the most respected kosher certification organization in the United States.
To be OU certified, the FFMC employed a rabbi to supervise the processing and cleaning required for the kosher certification. This is very important to all who eat kosher food, whether they are Jews who observe kosher practices or consumers who simply want to be assured that their food has been prepared according to strict hygienic guidelines.
But according to information obtained from employees at FFMC, the rabbi was often derelict in his duties and management knew it.
While he was required to observe the production line at all times, he spent a great deal of time in an office on a computer, or was simply absent.
He was obliged to make sure that only fish with fins and scales were being processed, that species like burbot and catfish were not in the mix. Allowing a catfish into the mix would be as offensive to Jews as dropping pork into ground beef would be to Muslims.
The rabbi inspector was in the employ of the FFMC from the late 1980s until 2000. But for at least the last five of those years, he lived in Kenora and commuted to Winnipeg once every couple of weeks to pick up his Government of Canada paycheque.
In his absence, former workers say they were instructed to make OU labels to seal each box of minced fish, and processing lines were operated at maximum rates without due respect for the Jewish Sabbath and holidays.
Companies like Manischewitz, which markets kosher foods, were paying a two-cent per pound surcharge to the FFMC for OU-sealed product in belief that it was kosher. With several million pounds of this fish being processed annually, those pennies added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a span of 10 years.
All of this information comes from interviews with former workers and documents filed in a lawsuit related to a different matter.…
Depending on how the plant ran, it might not be necessary for the mashgiach (rabbi) to be on the line at all times. That said, I heard of similar behavior from OU mashgichim when I worked an OU Passover run years ago. The plant's management was upset that my co-mashgiach and I insisted on being on the floor at all times supervising the product run.
Why were they upset?
Because the year before the OU mashgiach sat in a little office studying for his drivers exam. He only came out once or twice per 8 hour shift, and then for only a few moments at a time.
Our vigilance stopped non-kosher-for-Passover product from entering the marketplace. But we were never told by the OU to be as careful as we were. We did what we did out of a sense of duty.
But don't come away from this post with the mistaken idea that haredi kosher supervision is somehow better. It is not.
Much haredi supervision relies on the OU. What haredim do often is relabel OU product as their own. And, as the various Rubashkin scandals have shown, even the best haredi supervision assures little.
So was your gefilte fish treife?
Maybe it was, but most likely, it was not.
Because companies will not intentionally mislabel product. If the cases said whitefish or pike, they contained whitefish or pike.
Could there have been a stray catfish minced in?
Sure. But that stray piece of fish is battel, negated in the whole. It did not treife anything.
All this fish scandal proves is that Rabbi Ababdi is correct. You can (and probably should) rely on a product's label and ingredient panel. In the end, it will be far more reliable than any kosher supervision.
The entire op-ed can be read here.