April 2001 -- "Kosher L'Pesach"

"Kosher L'Pesach": It's Not Just A Label

Making Foods Kosher For Pesach Is A Demanding Job.

by Malka Lowinger

Pesach is once again upon us, and most of us are preparing ourselves with some apprehension for our annual kosher l’pesach shopping spree. We look forward to seeing the shelves of our local supermarket packed with appealing kosher l’pesach products. There’s certainly a thrill to Pesach shopping, a certain urgency that ushers in the coming Yom Tov.

But most of us are not looking forward to that fateful moment at the cash register. When the cashier rings up our order, we’re often afraid to look. No matter how much we’ve prepared ourselves ahead of time, don't our hearts sink a little when the total appears?

Over the years, there’s been much commotion about the high price of Pesach products. Consumer advocates have been on a continuous mission to prove that retailers take advantage of us at Pesach-time. But are grocery prices really inflated unfairly during the Pesach season? Or is there more to Pesach food production than sticking a new label on a product’s package?

We asked several experts in the food industry to tell us about Pesach food production. We were surprised at the tremendous time and labor needed to make a company's production facility Pesachdik. At home, preparing our kitchens for Pesach means cleaning, kashering and lots of shelving paper. But in the industry, it means extra mashgichim, painstaking ingredient selection and "air blowing" the crew.

"Surveys have shown that the fierce competition between stores actually causes many products to be cheaper during the Pesach season."

According to Effy Landsberg of Gefen Products, "There’s a perception that prices are raised significantly [at] Pesach-time. But, it’s really a lot more complex than most people understand." Landsberg explains that certain essential changes in product ingredients inevitably make production more costly. "We use corn syrup as a sweetener all year long," he points out, "but for Pesach we use sugar, which is considerably more expensive."

One of the biggest expenses for a company to absorb is the ‘down time’ of the machinery. "We usually run our production machines twenty-four hours a day," says Landsberg. "But, during the kashering process, the machines are sitting idle while they’re being cleaned. We’re paying for that down time even though we’re not producing anything during those hours."

Despite these additional expenses, Landsberg insists that prices generally remain stable during the Pesach season. "Surveys have shown that the fierce competition between stores actually causes many products to be cheaper during the Pesach season," he says. "Aggressive marketing and high volume are ensuring that food prices will remain on an even keel."

Ephraim Schwinder of Golden Fluff agrees that there’s more to Pesach production than meets the eye. "There’s so much extra care and caution during Pesach production," he says. "Our mashgichim work harder than ever for a Pesach production." Schwinder tells us that a full crew of extra mashgichim are on premises during the complex and intricate kashering process. "We thoroughly clean and sanitize all the equipment; and everything is taken apart." Old utensils are replaced with new ones for Pesach production.

Golden Fluff potato sticks are made with cooking oil, and the delivery of this ingredient is a whole production itself. "A special mashgiach supervises the delivery of the oil," says Schwinder. "The tanks arrive closed with a special seal, and the mashgiach matches the numbers [on the seal] to [the numbers] on the document from the supervising agency. Only the mashgiach has the authority to break the seal and determine whether all hoses and connections are brand new."

It's hard to maintain kashrus when dozens of workers are walking in and out of the plant--especially during their lunch break.

"It’s a tremendous undertaking," says Schwinder, who maintains that the price of his products do not go up during the Pesach shopping season. "We absorb the extra costs," he says: "When it comes to Pesach, we absorb thousands of dollars."

Apparently, he makes it up on volume. Golden Fluff’s kosher l’pesach potato sticks, nuts and Elyon marshmallows are very popular, some shipped as far as Australia and Europe. "Marshmallows are our number one item," says Schwinder. "We use potato starch or tapioca instead of corn starch. It’s more costly and more complex, but it’s completely kitniyos-free."

Kashering a plant for Pesach is only the beginning of the story. Securing its kashrus during production is difficult when dozens of workers are walking in and out of the plant-especially during their lunch break. Every company deals with this issue in its own way.

Schwinder insists that all workers be subjected to an ‘air blower’ before they enter the plant. This gadget is a professional blowing machine that actually brushes their clothes to remove any food residue. Workers are also supervised to be certain that they wash up thoroughly.

At Marvid Poultry in Canada, Moshe Friedman maintains stringent standards and adheres scrupulously to the requirements of the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). This is an especially high level of quality control, with standards set by the Canadian government. Friedman says that because he must adhere to these guidelines, his plant is truly Pesachdik all year long.

"Those who leave the working area must remove their [work] coats," Friedman explains. "And if they come back inside, they must change their clothing again." Each area of the plant is separate, and coats, boots and hairnets must be changed when walking from one area to another. "This means that if a Rav comes to visit and wants to walk through the entire plant, he will have to change three or four times."

Washing hands becomes a reflex activity at Marvid, where strict enforcement of sanitation laws make this a requirement. An inspector is on premises as well. The company has four separate hashgachos including the "OU," Hisachdus Harabonim (CRC/Brooklyn), Rabbi Yisroel Gornish (Brooklyn) and the "MK" of Montreal.

At A&B Fish Company, it takes almost a full week to kasher the plant. Three extra mashgichim are enlisted to supervise the kashering process. "Everything that touches the fish is new," says Yosef Meir of A&B. "This includes the bowls, the trays, the utensils and the table tops." Meir tells us that one observer commented to him, "I wish that my own house would be this kosher for Pesach."

The people at A&B are renowned for their high standards of kashrus all year round. At Pesach-time, they’re more careful than ever. In order to maintain total control, A&B does not use potato starch in its Pesachdik gefilte fish. Instead, they use fresh potatoes that they peel and boil on premises. "It’s gotten a very positive reaction," says Meir, "especially from those with discriminating tastes."

A number of mashgichim come to supervise the plant. Rabbi Moshe Landau (Bnei Brak) came in to supervise his lot, which was then shipped directly to Eretz Yisroel. According to Meir, Rabbi Landau was particularly impressed with the various kashrus stringencies, and especially enjoyed seeing the mashgiach who checks the eggs while listening to Torah tapes.

The demand for Pesachdik gefilte fish is high, both in heimishe neighborhoods and in the more remote Jewish communities. A slice of gefilte fish evokes memories of Jewish traditions in many less-religious Jews. "For some, it’s more important than the matza at the Seder," says Sholom Halpern of A&B.

The Pesach Seder is a defining Jewish experience. There’s something about sitting down at the Seder, filled with so much tradition and symbolism, that stirs the souls of religious and secular, young and old.

As we enjoy our Pesach Seder this year, let us stop for a moment to appreciate the many companies and individuals who have worked tirelessly to ensure that our Pesach is truly a kosher one. We trust them for their kashrus and depend on them for their ability to supply us with virtually everything we need.

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