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New York - Kosher Consumers Question Certifier's Vigilance In Wake Of Salmonella Peanut Recall; OU Responds

Published on: February 12, 2009 12:30 PM
By: VIN News By David Gold
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the Peanut Corporation of America processing plant in Plainview, Texas, that voluntarily suspended operations, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009, while state and federal health officials complete an investigation into procedures and food safety records there. Peanut Corp. closed its Blakely, Ga., plant last month after federal investigators identified it as the source of the salmonella outbreakNew York — An unprecedented nationwide outbreak of deadly salmonella bacteria centered on peanut products has thus far killed nine people and sickened more than 600 in 43 states.  But the outbreak also has many in the frum community asking whether the conditions at Peanut Corp. of America facilities said to have triggered the outbreak could also represent a laxity on the part of the OU and other kosher certifiers whose inspectors regularly oversaw the plants in question.

Via numerous e-mails and its contacts at the Orthodox Union, VIN News has learned that many kosher consumers are directly querying the OU whether the salmonella outbreak represents a kashrus problem—and that many others are simply pondering that same question without calling.

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Reports of salmonella-spreading mold, rats and roaches at the plants in question have alarmed kosher consumers because their presence in or even near production machinery could render the otherwise acceptable products non-kosher.

If the allegations are true, kosher certifiers’ competence and reliability may be called into question not just at PCA, but at all food production facilities where pests and mold may also be present.

However, Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator at the OU, asserts that the OU is “taking the issue very seriously.” 

In a Wednesday phone conversation with VIN News, Rabbi Elefant said that OU kosher inspectors are trained to spot and report unsanitary conditions and pests such as those that allegedly triggered the salmonella outbreaks at the PCA’s production facilities.

Case in point, the rabbi claimed that a few weeks ago, the same OU inspector formerly assigned to PCA found unsanitary conditions in a plant unrelated to the salmonella outbreak—and “right away told the owners to fix the problem or face removal of certification.”

Rabbi Elefant explained that “salmonella is caused by a microorganism.  This contamination can only be detected by a lab, and by federal and state inspectors.  Our mashgichim will report anything visible, but contamination requiring testing can only be done by the appropriate authorities following the appropriate testing methods.  The bottom line is, the Orthodox Union will not accept filth, contamination, or anything that can prove to be a health hazard.  We will pull our certification from companies where such contamination is found.”

Still, the fact remains that a month-long FDA investigation uncovered multiple violations at the plant in question, with the most disturbing revealing that products had been shipped after salmonella had been found in 2007 and 2008.  The OU withdrew its certification from PCA because of those violations, according to Rabbi Elefant.

According to the most recent information, PCA discovered the dangerous bacteria at its Georgia plant as far back as 2006.

Darlene Cowart of JLA testing company told a House committee on Wednesday that PCA contacted her business in November 2006 to help control salmonella discovered in the plant.

Federal health officials earlier said the company’s private tests found salmonella a dozen times, dating to June 2007.  Cowart’s testimony shows the company was dealing with the bacteria problem seven months earlier.

The salmonella outbreak has led to one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, encompassing more than 1,000 products.

 



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Read Comments (29)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Feb 12, 2009 at 11:54 AM moshe Says:

Which peanut butter brands are effected by this outbreak??

2

 Feb 12, 2009 at 11:42 AM Anonymous Says:

if you don't believe this you are not an apikores.

3

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:07 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

if you don't believe this you are not an apikores.

believe what exactly??

4

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:21 PM PeterPan Says:

Hey, where is PETA or Peter Pan? or do they prefer to go after Shechita?

5

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:19 PM Anonymous Says:

They don't make that much money from the peanut butter factory. But from rubashkin they made lots. Kesef yaaneh es hakol.

6

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:19 PM Anonymous Says:

Just wondering if they will allow their CEO out on bail, since he doesn't present a flight threat, although directly responsible for multiple deaths and people geting sick. Helps to put things in persepective of what's important , people lifes or $$$ in this country.

7

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:15 PM Anonymous Says:

This is good news. A bit late but OU and the other hashgacha organizations have a broader mandate than just wearing blinders and focusing narrowly on the nuts and bolts of kashruth. The hearing yesterday revealed that the management of this peanut plant lied and deceived the government agencies to avoid any loss in profits that even a temporary shutdown would have required. If they are willing to risk prison to avoid telling the FDA and state agencies about a problem, they would not even think twice about lying to mashgichim or sneaking around them to bring in terifus.

8

 Feb 12, 2009 at 01:10 PM Anonymous Says:

No peanut butter products in jars and whatnot effected, only INDUSTRIAL peanut butter used in baked goods, cereals, candy bars, etc.

9

 Feb 12, 2009 at 01:01 PM Yoine Cohen Says:

The Halachic dictum that we can use the fact that a gentile will not risk his good name or even jail is part of the Kosher hashgacha certification process. It does not mean that when you eat something that its not possible that in fact it was not kosher. Just as it could happen that 2 kosher witnesses lied that a womans husband died and she is then allowed by Halacha to marry again, and later when the husband appears, does that mean we can't rely on witnesses ever?

The Halacha only provides a means of conducting oneself in this world, it is not a system of establishing empirical facts. Halacha says we can eat certain foods on the 'assumption' that a person will not take the risk and falsify a claim on his product. So it is Kosher under that assumption, it is not an ultimate proof and unless it is revealed that this person is willing to take such a risk; which seems to be the case here, hence the OU removed the certification, as it should.

10

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:58 PM Anonymous Says:

Why the surprise? There have been a number of restauranrs under different hashgachas that have been cited for health violations. The response has alwats been that they are only there to certify kashrus. If there are animal droppins, vermin, food left out too long on unsanitary counters, that's not their problem

11

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:51 PM awacs Says:

Reply to #1  
moshe Says:

Which peanut butter brands are effected by this outbreak??

They don't make peanut butter. They make other, peanut-related products.

12

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:35 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #7  
Anonymous Says:

This is good news. A bit late but OU and the other hashgacha organizations have a broader mandate than just wearing blinders and focusing narrowly on the nuts and bolts of kashruth. The hearing yesterday revealed that the management of this peanut plant lied and deceived the government agencies to avoid any loss in profits that even a temporary shutdown would have required. If they are willing to risk prison to avoid telling the FDA and state agencies about a problem, they would not even think twice about lying to mashgichim or sneaking around them to bring in terifus.

I assume that mashgichim are trained in the basics of food sanitation. If not, then they should immediately add that to the requirements for certification. I'm not suggesting they become microbiologists or walk around with cotton swabs taking samples to send to some testing lab but at a minimum, they should be required to report to their supervisors any evidence of obvious food contamination problems such as rodent droppings, mold, etc. This isn't rocket science. Also, for many of these plants, the mashgiach may be the only "independent" outsider allowed into the facility.

13

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:10 PM Anonymous Says:

I personally know of a plant where rodents roamed freely. OU and Hisachdus gave hechsherim there. I can't imagine that they didn't notice the utter schmutz all over the place. I guess there attitude is as long as nothing unkosher is going into the product it's not their business. How sad.

14

 Feb 12, 2009 at 12:10 PM Anonymous Says:

If sanitary conditions are such a concern to Rabbi Elefant and the OU they should check the kitchens in some of the restaurants they supervize.

15

 Feb 12, 2009 at 02:03 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #12  
Anonymous Says:

I assume that mashgichim are trained in the basics of food sanitation. If not, then they should immediately add that to the requirements for certification. I'm not suggesting they become microbiologists or walk around with cotton swabs taking samples to send to some testing lab but at a minimum, they should be required to report to their supervisors any evidence of obvious food contamination problems such as rodent droppings, mold, etc. This isn't rocket science. Also, for many of these plants, the mashgiach may be the only "independent" outsider allowed into the facility.

Many mashgichim are trained in only the most minimum requirements to get the job done, and since there are THOUSANDS of religious Jewish men without work who would chalash to have any mashgiach job, they are quite happy to do whatever their bosses tell them or expect from them.

16

 Feb 12, 2009 at 01:46 PM Anonymous Says:

they would not even think twice about lying to mashgichim or sneaking around them to bring in terifus............

And this brings to question why and how kashrus agencies have inspections that 99% of the time are NOT SURPRISE Inspections.

In defense of the OU in this paricular story it is outrageous for anyone to say it's the OU resposnsibility to check for salminella. It is not the job of the OU or any Rabbi to check for things that can only be seen on a microscope.

I know we are living in a day and age where you have idiots screaming all day long about finding bugs in everything and only finding bugs because these idiots walk around with microscopes checking and checking and looking to find something when only using a microscope.

Lets get real and not expect anyone from the OU to now start walking around with microscopes and lab equipment around their neck!

With all the problems in kashrus the OU is still ahead of the game when it comes to responisbility. The OU has dumped many companies for different reasons and they could have easily made another 500 million dollars and nobody would know the difference but the OU has integrity and decides that kashrus is more important than than the money.

Can other agencies make the same claim?

I would bet that some other kashrus organization will give a hechsher to this peanut factory. kashrus organizations that take over companies that just lost their hechsher is something that is a big problem and proves that it's about the money and this makes the consumer sick to their stomache just as much a outbreak of salmonella.

17

 Feb 12, 2009 at 03:05 PM Anonymous Says:

One of the major problems with kashrus today is the reliance on "Mirsus" or the fear of getting caught.

However, today, in my opionions MIRSUS IS DEAD!

The inyan of Mirsus is no longer applicable, since people's careers are not destroyed anymore by being caught. Today we live in the "Ooops" generation.

That is why no Yotzai V'Nichnas has any value at all, no matter who owns or operates the facility. Mashsgichim Timidimm are ALWAYS neccessary. Without them the hashgacha is useless.

I know ALL those in the Kashrus industry will want to hang me from the nearest gallows for saying it, but in my opinion it is true.

As a mashgiach, I no longer accept any assignments as Yotzai V'nichnas. The mashgichim MUST have the keys, and have 24/7 access to all plants, and warehouses. There is no way around it any more.

18

 Feb 12, 2009 at 02:57 PM Anonymous Says:

There is the impression by the vast majority of kosher product consumers (who are incidently not jewish) that kashrut certification covers all aspects from health to cleanliness.

On that basis, and given the huge customer base, companies pay for kosher supervision.

It would be wise for the OU and other organizations to get involved in more aspects of production because if the non-jewish kosher consumer defects - that company won't want certification in the future.

19

 Feb 12, 2009 at 03:45 PM merkin Says:

Even in these difficult times, we should not paint peanuts with a broad brush. Just because there are some bad peanuts, this does not make all peanuts bad. Peanuts, like any member of any group, are individuals, and should be judged on their own merits. Discrimination is just plain wrong!

20

 Feb 12, 2009 at 03:20 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
Anonymous Says:

If sanitary conditions are such a concern to Rabbi Elefant and the OU they should check the kitchens in some of the restaurants they supervize.

I think that this should be told to hisachdus & other chasidishe mashgichim. The resturants were the ou gives hechsheirim are usualy the cleaner ones.

21

 Feb 12, 2009 at 03:15 PM Anonymous Says:

This is not a kashrut issue. The kosher certifying organizations are not judging food safety. The same as they don't render opinions on how workers are treated or if the owners of the factory cheat on their taxes. They only concern themselves with kashrus and with the type of music played and how the waitresses dress at restaurants that they certify.

22

 Feb 12, 2009 at 03:14 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #17  
Anonymous Says:

One of the major problems with kashrus today is the reliance on "Mirsus" or the fear of getting caught.

However, today, in my opionions MIRSUS IS DEAD!

The inyan of Mirsus is no longer applicable, since people's careers are not destroyed anymore by being caught. Today we live in the "Ooops" generation.

That is why no Yotzai V'Nichnas has any value at all, no matter who owns or operates the facility. Mashsgichim Timidimm are ALWAYS neccessary. Without them the hashgacha is useless.

I know ALL those in the Kashrus industry will want to hang me from the nearest gallows for saying it, but in my opinion it is true.

As a mashgiach, I no longer accept any assignments as Yotzai V'nichnas. The mashgichim MUST have the keys, and have 24/7 access to all plants, and warehouses. There is no way around it any more.

VERY TRUE, and they need to be on the premisis at all times the plant is open. Every minute. A plant with 5 buildings requires a minimum of 5 mashgichim, or actually 6. One needs to be on hand to give breaks to the other 5.

Also, mashgichim need access to ALL reports, not only regarding kashrus, but regarding all testing.

23

 Feb 12, 2009 at 04:31 PM Anonymous Says:

http://167.153.150.32/RI/web/index.do?method=nameZipSearch&selection=zipCode&searchValue=10036&requestedSortOrder=1&boroughSelect=%20&state=%20&alphaValue=%20&pageNum=2
Look at the nyc.gov website and you will see that some restaurants have rodents.
The OU does not check some facilities very often-some are only checked once a year, if even that much.

24

 Feb 12, 2009 at 08:57 PM Kashrus Pro Says:

Reply to #23  
Anonymous Says:

http://167.153.150.32/RI/web/index.do?method=nameZipSearch&selection=zipCode&searchValue=10036&requestedSortOrder=1&boroughSelect=%20&state=%20&alphaValue=%20&pageNum=2
Look at the nyc.gov website and you will see that some restaurants have rodents.
The OU does not check some facilities very often-some are only checked once a year, if even that much.

I dont know where you are getting your info from or if your actions are to show the OU as being bad but I could tell you that you are 100% incorrect for the most part. A company that doesnt require a hechsher is generally inspected twice a year. There are some exceptions where they are only inspected once a year but that is only if the products produced dont require a hechsher.

25

 Feb 12, 2009 at 10:08 PM Kashrus Pro Says:

This whole thing is crazy!
1. Salmonella cannot be seen and people who are not trained for it wont know what the "warning" signs are for it.

2. Salmonella is something found in the digestive tract of EACH AND EVERY PERSON.

3. 800 people got symptoms or worse of the MILLIONS who eat the products from that plant every day. This is a drop in the bucket and much ado about not too much.

26

 Feb 12, 2009 at 06:36 PM Anonymous Says:

what are the symptoms of salmonella we should be on alert for?

27

 Feb 12, 2009 at 05:41 PM Yoine Cohen Says:

Reply to #17  
Anonymous Says:

One of the major problems with kashrus today is the reliance on "Mirsus" or the fear of getting caught.

However, today, in my opionions MIRSUS IS DEAD!

The inyan of Mirsus is no longer applicable, since people's careers are not destroyed anymore by being caught. Today we live in the "Ooops" generation.

That is why no Yotzai V'Nichnas has any value at all, no matter who owns or operates the facility. Mashsgichim Timidimm are ALWAYS neccessary. Without them the hashgacha is useless.

I know ALL those in the Kashrus industry will want to hang me from the nearest gallows for saying it, but in my opinion it is true.

As a mashgiach, I no longer accept any assignments as Yotzai V'nichnas. The mashgichim MUST have the keys, and have 24/7 access to all plants, and warehouses. There is no way around it any more.

Mirsus is not dead just as the Torah is not dead. The question is; does an average person have mirsus/fear of getting cought if true then Halacha says we can rely on that.

Company officials are presently under criminal investigation, and would probably serve time, in addition the plant is closed and the company is going bankrupt. To argue now that this proves that mirsus/fear is dead is ludicrous. The opposite is being shown in this case.

Witnesses lie every day; still even one witness like you "eid echod ne'eman" have the halachic status of being able to be relied on. Should one day a "mashgiach temidi" lie and cause treif to be consumed C"V, that would not make you unfit to be a mashgiach.

Your product is not accepted because you say so, per se, we rely on you because the Halacha says we are permited rely on you, the same halacha says mirsus is effective.

28

 Feb 12, 2009 at 04:39 PM Central USA Kashrus Pro Says:

I am sickened by the comments on this blog by people who know absolutly nothing other than what the media is feeding them and I would like to addres that here.

1. As an industrial mashgiach, I can tell you that we are not concenred about the "cleanliness" of the plant per se UNLESS it is REALLY BAD. Most reputable facilities have bait stations and pest control coming in to service them. That is not our job. We have a job to make sure the raw materials meet kashrus requirments. In all my years, only ONE time did I make mention to my company rep that something was wrong and I was thanked for it. They know what the problem is and they deal with it as they see. We cannot be the policemen for the health department and we will not be either. If my state doesnt monitor the situation, thats not my problem UNLESS it comprimises kashrus.

2. Please dont believe what the NY Slimes etc., is feeding you here. This was not as bad as it is being reported. The mashgiach - one of the best in the business - didnt see anything wrong with the plant and I will stand by his word on that. There werent rats, roaches, etc., running around!

3. These plants supplied peanut products which were consumed by MILLIONS of people and yet only 800 got sick. I am not dimishing the the fact that people got sick etc., however when MILLIONS of people are consuming all sorts of nut products from PCA in one form or another and ONLY 800 got sick, that is a VERY SMALL PERCENTAGE! In fact, Salmonella lives in YOUR gut! Please read the CDC website about Salmonella before making any more comments.

4. Getting back to #1, we cannot be in the business of adding to what the health inspections are doing or IF they are doing. We are there for kashrus. All you peple want us to do everything but when prices go up, you complain. You wanna know why the mashgiach needs to be paid a livable salary. Quit complaining already!

5. For the poster that said this was all about money, you are a complete fool. The situation in IA wasnt as it was reported but you are m'kabel loshon hora for accecpting it like the kool-aid you drink. Let us hope the Rubashkins get their day in court (it would be better if the govt dropped their false charges anyway) so that they could defend themselves - unfortunately to the yiddin too! You think the OU cares if they didnt get thier pennies from this plant? You are mistaken. The OU has no problem dropping the company but I wonder what you would say when the Bottom Feeders pick them up?

CUKP

30

 Feb 13, 2009 at 04:19 PM Anonymous Says:

"Case in point, the rabbi claimed that a few weeks ago, the same OU inspector formerly assigned to PCA found unsanitary conditions in a plant unrelated to the salmonella outbreak—and "right away told the owners to fix the problem or face removal of certification." '

Which plant had a problem. The kosher consumer has a right to know the details of this NOW. Who What When and Where. Only then can the OU regain public confidence that it represents the "highest level of kosher certification."

31

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