January 4, 2011

Repackaging of Foods Requires Kosher Certification, Agencies Say

 New York…The suit by the Orthodox Union (OU) against Western Edge “for trademark infringement and deceptive trade practice” raised the issue of the need for kosher certification for repackaged foods. In Western Edge’s case, they imported tilapia fish from a Chinese company that represented itself as kosher and was not. The suit alleges that Western Edge produced a fraudulent OU letter when asked by a Brooklyn food company about the kosher status of its tilapia fillets. But kashrus officials say that Western Edge would have needed kosher certification even if the Chinese company was certified because it was processing and repackaging the tilapia. Interestingly enough, the requirement for kosher certification for repackaged foods is not one of the universal policies adopted by such umbrella kashrus groups as the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO). While there may not be an official policy, “the standard is that if it is opened up at the repackaging company then some level of rabbinic oversight is needed if they want to use a kosher logo there as well,” said Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, Executive Director of AKO. Most kashrus officials agreed that a brand could not rely on the kosher certification of the manufacturer if the product is repackaged. “The minute the box is opened at a repackaging plant, that’s when our certification ends,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union. The officials say that they often have to “chase down” companies that don’t bother to apply for kosher certification because they are convinced that they are automatically covered by the manufacturer’s certification. They make the distinction between kosher manufacturers that do private labeling and manufacturers that ship products to be repackaged by a distributor, wholesaler or retailer. In the earlier case, kashrus officials who are on site or do periodic inspections are aware of the label on the package while in the latter case they are not which is why they require a new application for certification.