Liquid Terminals Help the Faithful Keep Kosher During Passover
With Passover beginning March 27 and running through April 4, you may have noticed more special kosher labels on food goods in your supermarket. But unless you are an Orthodox Jew, you’ve probably never really thought about what it means to keep kosher or even what is entails to handle and certify kosher products. You’ve probably thought even less about the role the liquid terminal industry performs in the process.
Interestingly, some liquid terminals play an important role in ensuring that foods stay kosher as they move through the supply chain to the consumer.
Kosher refers to a Jewish dietary framework for food preparation, processing, handling and consumption. Though variations exist, most guidelines prohibit pairing meat and dairy and only allow certain animals to be eaten, explained Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz of the Orthodox Union, an organization that certifies kosher foods. Most other foods are fine, provided they’re produced using kosher equipment and practices to ensure that non-kosher products don’t encounter or are absorbed into the kosher food, he told Think Tank.
Because of the complexities of modern food production, it can be difficult to know whether many processed foods are kosher, Rabbi Rabinowitz said. To avoid any missteps, several organizations, including OU, certify a product is kosher, which allows manufacturers to add a “kosher-certified” label, making it easier for consumers to identify acceptable foods, he said.
The process starts with a kosher product, whether that’s an actual food product, an additive or component to another product. Once the product is kosher verified at its source, it must remain kosher throughout the supply chain, Rabbi Rabinowitz said. If the product is shipped, the vessel must be certified kosher. “For example, say you have a vessel transporting glycerin, which can be derived from a variety of sources, including animal, vegetable or petroleum, which may or may not be kosher,” he said. “But if you are using kosher glycerin, the ship must be cleaned in the proper way to ensure that no non-kosher products are encountered or are absorbed into the kosher glycerin. As a result, we would want to certify the cleaning process and the ship as kosher.” Rabbi Rabinowitz explained that kosher vessels can include ships, boats, barges, tankers, railway cars and trailers. “If a kosher product is going to be shipped, the mode of transportation must be certified kosher,” he noted.
Terminals ensure kosher products are separate for non-kosher
The terminal’s role in working with kosher products largely focuses on ensuring they are separated from non-kosher products all the time they are in the terminal, from offloading to handling to storage to blending to shipping, said Mark Engdall, commercial vice president at International Matex Tank Terminals. “Our role is to ensure that the chain of custody isn’t broken.”
Engdall supervises commercial activities at IMTT’s terminals in Bayonne, N.J., near New York City and in the Chicago area, both of which have sizable Jewish populations. “For us, obviously, the New York metro area has one of the largest Jewish population outside of Israel,” Engdall said. “We are committed to our customers and, as such, we play our role to ensure that the consumers of their products can follow their customs, traditions and religious beliefs. We want our customers and the community to have confidence that the products they buy are handled in accordance with kosher law. We are happy to help do our part in the process.”
At Engdall’s terminals, the kosher-certification process largely revolves around chemicals – not food. “IMTT’s terminals store hundreds of products, and some of those products are added to food stuffs,” he said, Examples include glycols, used in food, medicines, flavoring and tobacco; glycerin, used in syrups, desserts, canned meats as well as soaps and cosmetics; and caustic soda, adjusts the Ph in some foods, Engdall explained.
For other terminals, the focus is entirely on food. “We haven’t had anyone request that we certify kosher chemicals, but we have had several related to the handling of animal fat, palm oil and vegetable oil,” said Tommy Herbert, director of scheduling and logistics for IMTT’s Gulf South Region, which operates three terminals in the New Orleans area.
Kosher label is for detergents and laundry soap, not just food
For yet others, the kosher certification is necessary to ensure that products that will ultimately be used in laundry and dishwashing liquids or cosmetics and other beauty products are kosher, said Larry Laverriere, managing director of Sprague Energy’s terminal operations. Sprague Energy operates the Twin Rivers Technologies Terminal in Quincy, Mass., which is co-located and serves Proctor & Gamble, one of the world’s largest producers of fabric and home care products as well as beauty products.
“For us, the kosher products are largely palm and coconut oils as well as fatty acids,” said Laverriere. His customers are using these liquids as blend products for soaps, laundry detergents and cosmetics.
“For Jews that follow very strict kosher laws, anything that could possibly touch food must be kosher,” Rabbi Rabinowitz said. “If your dishes were washed with a detergent that contained animal byproducts, you could compromise the whole kitchen,” he said. “You’d also want to ensure that table linens or napkins or things like lip balms are kosher so as not to compromise the food.”
At terminals, the kosher-certification process is more technical than religious or spiritual, Engdall related. “The rabbis that come to the terminals are very technical rabbis,” he said. “Some even have engineering degrees.” Rabbi Rabinowitz added that all those tasked with certification, especially in modern food processing, undergo extensive training and education. Many even have specialties, whether that’s candies or condiments, he said. “The rabbis that certify kosher are different from the pulpit rabbis,” he explained.
Each time a new customer requiring kosher products signs a contract, the rabbis will inspect the system, Engdall said. “Essentially they are looking to see that chain of custody isn’t broken and that each step through the terminal remains kosher.” Terminals with the ability to have dedicated systems for a specific customer have it easier, he added. If a tank or a line is used for many different customers, and those products are not kosher, all components must be cleaned according to the kosher process, Engdall added. Laverriere said rabbis return to recertify the tanks and pipelines every year and do a special review around the time of API 652 inspections. Hebert said inspections and blessings at his terminals are more sporadic.
Rabbis routinely inspect terminal paperwork
The biggest lift for terminals if they have dedicated customer systems is the paperwork, Engdall said. “We’ll get frequent spot checks of our paperwork and our systems,” he noted. “The paperwork is the big thing. We need to show that the product we received was certified kosher at the source, and that the mode of transport to the terminal was also certified kosher,” Engdall added. “Plus, we must show that we kept it kosher, and the mode of transport that will take it out of the terminal is kosher certified.”
For Passover, Jews observe an even more stringent level of food rules, called Passover Kosher, Rabbi Rabinowitz explained. “Most grain products are prohibited from the diet during Passover, and some Orthodox Jews stay away from not only leavened foods like bread, but also legumes, rice, seeds and corn.” The exception is matzo, which, while derived from grain, is unleavened and produced using special rules, he said.
For terminals, Passover Kosher can heighten the separation process, Engdall said. “For anything that needs to be Passover Kosher, we have to be sure that the tank has not contained corn-based ethanol,” he explained. “Ethanol derived from sugar cane is fine, but you can run into problems with corn-based ethanol. If it were one of the last three cargoes stored in a tank, you would have to follow the specialized kosher cleaning procedures to return the tank to Passover kosher status.”
Terminal operators say handling kosher products is just part of the workday. “We’ve always stored any liquid – from water to wine,” Hebert said. “If there is a market for it, we’ll handle it. We’ll adapt to our customers’ needs, and we’ll do anything we can to make sure we provide them with excellent service, including ensuring that their products are kosher if that’s what they require.”