Sharon, MA – It has become commonplace for certifying rabbis and agencies to urge consumers to “see something, say something” when it comes to kashrus. Arlene Mathes-Scharf has now done that 5000 times as her Kashrut.com recently reached that milestone since it was founded in May, 1996. Her alerts warn consumers about kosher products that are mislabeled, food safety and allergy recalls and changes in the kosher status of food products. Kashrus experts say that despite the remarkable work of the kashrus agencies to get the word out about kashrus problems, including widely distributed publications and timely postings on their websites, Kashrut.com is an important service to kosher consumers.
Arlene Mathes-Scharf is a food scientist with a specialty in kashrus. She tells the story of how she came to launch kashrus.com: “One of my friends told me that Stop and Shop Pepperoni Pizza had an OU on it. I faxed the label to the OU. The OU placed an ad in the local Jewish newspaper. I thought about the fact that if one did not subscribe to that paper, one would not know the product is mislabeled. As the Internet developed, I thought it would be a good way to inform people in real time. I designed Kashrut.com as a resource for the kosher consumer and manufacturer.”
As she looks back at the 5000 alerts, some truly stand out. They include several that revolved around Passover. There was the brand of tomato paste with an unauthorized Passover designation, Empire Chicken Breast Nuggets and Breaded Chicken Tenders containing bread crumbs with Passover certification in 2008, and Streit’s Milk Chocolate Cashew Clusters that were labeled as pareve in 2001. Year-round, there were such unauthorized certifications as Kasia’s Potato & Bacon Pierogi with a cRc in 2015, Salmonella in Sabra Hummus in 2015, Regal Spice Ham Soup Base and Regal Beef Spice with an OU -2015, French’s Real Onion Crisps – Parmesan- missing the D 2015, Aaron’s Best Gluten Free Beef Franks Hot & Spicy Chipotle with undeclared peanut 2015, Listeria in Acme Smoked Salmon in 2104, story on Philadelphia Cream Cheese losing its certification due to Philadelphia Bacon Cream Cheese and company changing its processing so the other products can continue to be kosher. Tabatchnick Cream of Chicken Soup- not kosher with a kosher symbol – 2014, Dairy Orange Juice – 2013, and so it went.
Kashrus agencies say that many of the mislabeled products are unintentional but that does not change the need for the kosher consumer to know, however short-lived the problem may be. In a way, it is remarkable that with 225,000 kosher certified items on US grocery shelves, that there were only 5,000 alerts, but kashrus officials say that they are still way too many.