Chinese Exporters Use Kosher Certification To Quell Food Safety Concerns

Kosher certification is the new darling of health-conscious consumers who misguidedly believe that biblically blessed health standards can reign in the excesses of commercial food production. Even Chinese exporters are betting that kosher certification can convince foreign consumers that their wares are safe. To companies, certification is just a marketing tool: it lends the aura of safety without offering any actual food safety benefits.

Many Chinese companies were unfamiliar with the concept: One furniture maker asked for kosher certification, drawing a polite rebuff. Another facility asked to get certified as kosher even though it was smoking eel on site, a kosher no-no. The company was turned down; it is now building a separate, kosher-only facility.

And many companies weren’t ready for the grilling the rabbis gave them on their first visits to their plants, seeing it as a sign of distrust. “In China, everything works on relationships,” said Grunberg of the Orthodox Union, which certifies more than 400,000 products worldwide.

Almost 5,000 new Kosher products hit U.S. shelves last year, but they aren’t any safer than traife goods.

Whether kosher foods are actually less likely to be contaminated with, say, E. coli bacteria remains up for debate. While research is scant in this area, experts say it makes sense that kosher food could be safer because it’s more closely monitored. “Jews aren’t allowed to ingest bugs, so produce must go through a thorough washing and checking to ensure that no bugs are found within the leaves or on the surface of the fruit or vegetable,” says Moshe Elefant, a rabbi and chief operating officer of the Orthodox Union KOSHER, a kosher certification organization based in New York. But bacteria can remain even after this type of washing, so consumers can’t assume they’re less likely to get food poisoning with bagged spinach marked kosher than with a conventional bag.

The same caveat applies to poultry and beef. A salting process that removes blood from the meat has antibacterial effects, but salmonella and E. coli can still survive, says Joe Regenstein, a professor of food science who teaches a course on Jewish and Muslim food laws at Cornell University. Kosher beef, though, is much less likely to contain the misshapen proteins that cause mad cow disease, rare as that is, probably because the animals are slaughtered young, before the disease sets in.

Kosher certification is especially ill-suited for the Chinese marketplace. Contamination is caused by corrupt suppliers who substitute cheap poisons for relatively expensive ingredients. We use kosher certification for one thing, and one thing only: finding really good Coke.

Health-conscious consumers put their faith in kosher certification [The Globe and Mail via BarfBlog]
China going kosher after recalls [Mercury News]
(Photo: nicasaurusrex)