A recent Food Safety News article about how Kosher certification could hold ideas for the future of meat-processing (to lessen the likelihood that we’re eating horse) has completely buried the lede. In a wordy explanation as to why many believe Kosher certified foods to be safer and cleaner than non-Kosher foods, they hid this ghastly and terrifying tid-bit:
Federal regulations allow for certain threshold amounts of contamination in foods, known as “maximum defect actions levels,” before they are considered unsafe—for example, fewer than two maggots per 500 grams of canned tomatoes and fewer than thirty insect fragments per 100 grams of peanut butter.
Let’s look at those numbers for a second. Regular, old, secular food processing plants are a-okay with close to three maggots floating around in the 28-ounce can of tomatoes your granny uses in her tomato sauce (or, brisket — Passover is just around the corner). That 16-ounce jar of Skippy you’ve been eating with a spoon at work could contain up to 120 “insect fragments.” Can Kosher regulations save us from so many peanut butter antenna sandwiches?
In a way, yes. Insects are definitely not Kosher, so Kosher producers have a zero tolerance policy for their presence in foods that earn the seal of approval. However, the article explains:
Kosher inspectors are professionally trained in Jewish dietary law, food chemistry, and food technology, and they are especially vigilant when it comes to bugs and other impurities that render food non-kosher. They do not, however, have any particular expertise in bacterial contamination or safe food handling practices. “Our [inspectors], although knowledgeable, are not trained health professionals who qualify as health inspectors,” explains Dr. Avrom Pollak who heads Star-K, a leading kosher certifier.
For anyone who’s ever dabbled in the religious-kitchen arts, you know that Kosher meats are freaking expensive. Potentially even more than the hand-fed, co-sleeping chickens from your friendly local farm. We’re guessing the cost comes from intensely scrutinizing the foods for cleanliness, and inspecting plants for compliance with a zillion* laws of kashrut, then passing those costs onto the consumer. Which, off the bat doesn’t seem like a sustainable way to get un-tainted meat to the masses (not to mention peanut butter!).
The op-ed piece ends clarifying that while Kosher inspection may not be the means to safer meat, it may be a model for privatizing our food regulations in the future. So, sorry to disappoint. It looks like we’ll all just have to carry on with our maggot-tainted horsey stews and bug-leg peanut butter bunnies for the time being.
*Not an actual figure. Ain’t no body got time to read the whole Torah!
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