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July, 2012

STAR-K’s Ninth Annual Kashrus Training Program Attracts Attendees from Brooklyn to Brazil
by Margie Pensak

Rabbi Daniel Presman traveled 10,800 roundtrip miles, a 22-hour roundtrip flight from his hometown of Porto Alegre, Brazil, just to attend STAR-K’s ninth annual Kashrus Training Program, July 16-19, held in its Baltimore offices. Hearing about the program via an email, he was convinced that it would be well worth the trip-- he was not disappointed.

Ten thousand Jews live in Rabbi Presman’s southern Brazilian community, an 18-hour car trip and 1-1/2 hour plane ride away from Sao Paula, which houses a larger Jewish population of 60,000. There, he works for Ner Le’Elef, a Jewish outreach program based in six continents and 44 countries, and does volunteer hashgacha work for Beit Din Kashrut (B.D.K.), one of the two largest kashrus organizations in Brazil.

“My community wants more kosher certified food,” explains Rabbi Presman. “Despite the differences in supervision policies between Brazilian hechsherim and those of STAR-K, I think the most important thing is learning about the practical, hands-on, on-site issues, in addition to studying the halacha. The program was very enlightening; it was wonderful to get to know the people who work at STAR-K.”  

The 28 participants of STAR-K’s ninth annual Kashrus Training Program included rabbanim, kollel fellows, and others serving in klei kodesh who have studied Yorah Deah. The intensive seminar featured lectures by STAR-K’s rabbinic staff members, including its Rabbinic Administrator, HaRav Moshe Heinemann, and its President, Dr. Avrom Pollak. A STAR-K produced audio-visual production about insect recognition, a hands-on practicum for vegetable checking, and field trips to a STAR-K certified slaughterhouse, candy manufacturing plant, restaurant, bakery, the kosher kitchen of the Hyatt Regency, and optional trips to view the Pride of the Farm milk operation and Baltimore community eruv, rounded out the seminar experience.
STAR-K’s Kashrus Training Program also had the privilege of hosting Rabbi Rahamim Churba, who was recommended to participate by Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus Magazine. Rabbi Churba, a member of Brooklyn, New York’s Syrian community, teaches the halachos of boser v’chalev in Shaare Torah High School for Girls, and writes halachic pamphlets for the Syrian community.   

“For sure, it was worth the trip,” says Rabbi Churba. “I felt comfortable asking questions. I learned technical things, how things work. To know the ropes of hashgacha is very important; you can see kashrut in a much better light.  I thought the program was very informative and very professional. I look forward to keeping up a kesher with STAR-K, asking shailos and getting information.”

Coming to the program, from a bit closer to home, was Rabbi Moshe Walter. Last year, Rabbi Walter became the Rav of the Woodside Synagogue-Ahavas Torah, a position formerly held by Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, who made aliya with his family.

STAR-K received this thank you note from Rav Walter: “Thank you again for arranging and organizing a very informative and educational program. It was very nice to see the inner workings of the organization, and the Star K's open and honest policy when sharing important Kashrus information. I hope this will be the beginning of a longstanding relationship with the STAR-K. ”

Yet other attendees traveled from Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Lakewood, Las Vegas, San Diego, Toronto, and Wilmington.

STAR-K Kashrus Administrator, Rabbi Mayer Kurcfeld, the main presenter at the program, said: “I try to instill an attitude toward Kashrus that I believe has been lost or at least neglected. It is to stress to the attendees the need to project to all whom they might encounter in the field that Kashrus is not just about its technical demands ... turning on fires, checking vegetables, meat vs. dairy, etc. There is an aspect of reverence and seriousness that Kashrus deserves. We must display that, for us, Kashrus is not some "Diet-Fad" that one can choose to forgo. It is religious-based and, as a result, cannot and will not be compromised. I believe, unfortunately, sometimes the "main ingredient" is lost — HaKadosh Baruch Hu. This is what I try to convey.”

In summing up this year’s program, Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, STAR-K Kashrus Administrator and coordinator of the seminar, said: “We are grateful that we are able to continue training the next generation of leaders in Kashrus, in the U.S. and around the world. Many of our previous attendees are making significant contributions to their communities’ Kashrus, and we fully expect this year’s group to be no different. ”

July, 2012

STAR-K Hosts Review Seminar for its ‘Eyes and Ears’
by Margie Pensak

Over the summer, STAR-K’s Baltimore offices hosted two Mashgichim Review Seminars which were attended by close to 50 mashgichim. The participants, who act in a kashrus supervisory capacity primarily for restaurants, caterers, camps, and college campus Kosher programs, came from throughout the Maryland-Pennsylvania region.

The seminar featured Greetings delivered by Dr. Avrom Pollak, President of STAR-K, and Rav Yaakov Hopfer,  shlit”a, Rosh Vaad HaRabbonim of Baltimore and member of the Vaad HaRabbonim Kashrus Committee. Topics included: Food Service Hashgocho, Liquor and Drinks, and Vegetable Checking. A Q&A session with STAR-K’s Rav Hamachshir, HaRav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, concluded the seminar.

Yanki Frager, the chef and head mashgiach at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center, in Reisterstown, MD, was just one of the seminar attendees. His job entails cooking breakfast and lunch for all groups in-house, Sunday through Thursday, and preparing Shabbos menus. He is also responsible for ensuring that the entire building stays STAR-K compliant and that mashgiachim are always present when cooking takes place.

“In this seminar I gained a lot through clarification of STAR- K policy and a deeper understanding of the reasons of what we do,” says Yanki. “I was happy to learn that STAR- K has a "test kitchen" where they test out procedures to check vegetables for bugs. It takes into consideration every ‘rumor’ about bugs in food, and then tests to see if they are true before informing Kosher consumers. I thought this seminar was important because chazara is always necessary, and it gave us a chance to directly ask Rav Heinemann questions regarding STAR-K facilities, clarifying different policies that come into question.”

Mark and Louise Powers attended the seminar from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Mark has been the STAR-K mashgiach in Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Louise has been the mashgicha at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for the past two years.

“Participating in the seminar gave me a feeling of what I am doing is important,” explained Louise. “I love my job and I really enjoyed listening to all the questions, getting reinforcement, learning about things I can improve on, and seeing what is going on elsewhere, beyond my college.”

“The Mashgichim Review Seminar  is definitely something that enhances the level of Kashrus in the community by making sure that everyone is on the same page and up-to-date on the latest developments in the field,” feels STAR-K Kashrus Administrator Rabbi Sholom Tendler, coordinator of the seminar. “It also gave a chance for those out in the field to ask questions and provide feedback, comments, and input. It also gave us all the opportunity to share ideas with each other and to collectively gain from each other’s knowledge and experience.”

May, 2012

Bundling Audits
Bob Vosburgh, Jeff Wells and Alyssa Haak May 22, 2012

It’s tough enough getting certified on a single attribute, much less three. But Hain-Celestial Group’s WestSoy product line was able to gain organic, kosher and non-GMO certification in record time thanks to the emergence of multiple audit programs that streamline the verification process.

“They would have needed to set up separate days, and separate times, waiting for an inspector for each,” said Steve Sichel, director of development for Star-K, a non-profit kosher certification organization. “That’s no longer the case.”

Star-K worked with Quality Assurance International and the Non-GMO project to develop the consolidated inspections for the WestSoy items. Each firm determined which elements in their individual evaluations were common to the other two. As a result, the inspection time was cut by almost two-thirds.

“The advantage is having a one-stop shop that cuts through a lot of redundancy each time a company needs to get certified for something,” noted Tom Chestnut, vice president of food safety and quality for NSF International, QAI’s parent.

The efficiencies in MAP were the reason that supplement maker FoodState pursued combined audits for organic and gluten-free certification for nine products under its MegaFood brand of supplements.

“The process of doing these certifications can be really complicated and we really wanted to meet consumer demand as quickly as possible,” said Bethany Glaser, regulatory affairs associate for FoodState.

The audits were completed in tandem and saved the company “thousands of dollars” in up-front expenses, as well as an untold number of man hours devoted to processing what is essentially duplicate paperwork, she said.

The MAP developed by QAI was introduced earlier this year and covers the most popular certifications: organic, gluten-free and Global Food Safety Initiative-benchmarked standards. Kosher and non-GMO certification can be added, as well as audits covering local food sourcing, seafood safety and even social justice.

“Across all of these programs, product integrity is fundamental,” noted Jackie Bowen, general manager of QAI.

Audit bundling is expected to get a big boost now that the U.S. and European Union have signed a far-reaching organic equivalency agreement. Manufacturers reaching out to global food retailers will find their products require additional certifications that further complicate the multiple audit process.

GMO on The Ballot

NEARLY A MILLION California consumers have signed on to an effort that would require the labeling of food products made with genetically modified ingredients. If passed by voters in November, the ballot initiative would make California the first state in the country with such a “Right to Know” law.

The statewide campaign mirrors the ongoing national push for GMO labeling. To date a number of consumer and environmental advocacy groups have petitioned the Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies for rules regulating GMOs. The protest includes not only crops like soy and corn, but also proteins. A GM salmon is expected to be approved by the FDA before the summer.

In California, the ballot question pits activists against modern farm operators who fear any requirements will be too costly and drive up retail prices. As of late April, supporters had raised close to $1 million, while opponents filed just over half a million dollars.

Health Halos: The Devil Made Me Eat It

AH, THE POWER of positive thinking.

Studies conducted by three universities found that food labels making organic, locally produced or fair trade claims can mislead consumers into thinking the foods are healthier. The authors cited one example in which consumers were more likely to believe that chocolate made by a company described as treating its workers ethically was lower in calories.

The altered perceptions are attributed to the power of the health and wellness message.

“Health halos evoked by social ethics can promote higher consumption recommendations for a poor-nutrition food,” warned the researchers.

Got A Cause? Make It a Day

Non-GMO advocates have their own month, hemp lovers their own week, and whole grain acolytes can now look forward to a day each April filled with sampling, cooking demonstrations, and maybe even a flash mob or two.

In a marketplace full of niche interests, organizers have found that getting on consumers’ calendars is a surefire way to stand out. Like a Groupon or a going-out-of-business sale, awareness events generate excitement with their limited timeframe and money-saving promotions.

Cynthia Harriman, executive director of the Whole Grains Council, gave consumers and retailers carte blanche ahead of last month’s first-ever Whole Grain Sampling Day. Events ranged from demo stations at Hy-Vee and ShopRite stores to a flash mob outside the University of Minnesota’s student union.

“We put the idea out there and tried to encourage everyone to be creative, but what happened went way beyond what we could have imagined,” said Harriman.

That same enterprising spirit promises to be on display during Hemp History Week in June, aimed at raising support for hemp products and the legalization of hemp growing in the U.S. Students at Ithaca College in upstate New York will hold a weeklong “Hempstravaganza,” complete with panel discussions and the screening of a documentary on Native American hemp growers. Many independent and regional retailers like Earth Fare and Alfalfa’s will celebrate, too, by offering special endcap displays and giveaways. Whole Foods Market has also signed on to offer promotions on numerous hemp products, from soap to cereal. More than 700 retail stores are ready to promote Hemp History Week, up from 470 last year.

“It’s a real testament to how much the industry has grown,” said Christina Volgyesi, project coordinator for the event. “Retailers wouldn’t give us endcap space if they didn’t think the products would turn.”

As consumer awareness continues to build, Harriman hopes retailers remember to convey the message that healthy eating can be fun, and to just have a good time.

“There’s too much of this hold-your-nose-and-eat-it mentality about healthy food, and we really want to get past that,” she said.

Explaining Organic

Local, sustainable, artisan... These are today’s buzzwords that sell food products. As they become more popular, older ones like organic are in danger of becoming less relevant.

“It’s not that consumers are losing interest in organic,” said Laurie DeMeritt, president of the Hartman Group, a retail consulting firm. “It’s that they’re looking for new things to layer on top of it.”

The industry is aware of the emerging challenge and is considering steps to improve organic’s visibility. Last autumn, the Organic Trade Association met to discuss the feasibility of a consolidated industry campaign. On the surface, it would seem there’s no need for such support. The OTA’s most recent numbers find that sales of organic foods increased 9.4% last year, to $29 billion. Fresh produce was the largest category, contributing nearly half of the growth.

Yet outside statistics show that more than half of consumers polled stated that it’s more important to buy local produce than organic. A report from Mintel found that the number of fruit products with a natural/organic claim have declined 58% between 2008 and 2011, while vegetable product launches with the claim have decreased by 77%.

Industry observers say the marketplace is simply becoming too crowded with labels, claims and stories.

“Five or 10 years ago if you were organic it would stick out in a sea of similar products,” said DeMeritt. “Now, it’s not enough.”

Fighting Obesity in the Womb

An ongoing, three-year study in Great Britain is testing whether the diabetes drug metformin can prevent overweight babies being born to obese mothers. One hundred pregnant woman classified as obese will be administered the drug in an attempt to make the birth safer and to bring about healthier newborns.

Doctors are hoping the regimen can help prevent pre-eclampsia, a potentially fatal complication that’s common in the pregnancies of overweight women. Critics fear the moms-to-be will simply opt for treatment with the drug rather than make the hard choice to lose weight prior to pregnancy.

It’s “a shame that it is needed at all,” said one diet expert.

The Newest Gluten Threat

The last place someone with gluten sensitivity might expect to find trouble is in the medications and dietary supplements they consume.

But gluten is often present in prescription and OTC medications as an binding agent. Of more concern is the fact that current regulations do not require disclosure. This lack of labeling can pose a risk for those with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders.

As the Food and Drug Administration begins to mandate the labeling of allergens in food, the Gluten in Medicine Identification Act of 2012 aims to have pharmaceutical companies label the inactive ingredients in their medications.

Last year, the FDA awarded the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness a $50,000 grant to study the impact of gluten in medications.

As part of a continuing education effort, the NFCA provides pharmacists with an accredited course in recognizing celiac disease as well as developing relationships with supermarkets to make it easier for customers to find the products they need, said Alice Bast, founder and president of the NFCA.

“Food is our medication,” said Bast, who also has celiac disease. “We need to form partnerships with the people who feed us. That’s where we get our education.”

April, 2012

Star-K adds non-GMO certification to its kosher and organic audits
By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 17-April-2012

Star-K Kosher Certification has begun providing triple inspections to certify plants and products as non-GMO, organic and kosher, which it says can save companies time and money on individually conducted inspections.

Star-K already had a joint kosher and USDA organic auditing program, developed in conjunction with Quality Assurance International (QAI), since the start of 2009, but it conducted its first triple audit – adding non-GMO certification – for Hain Celestial Group’s WestSoy product line in December. The non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) verification allows the kosher certification body to add the Non-GMO Project’s verification scheme to these double kosher-organic audits, providing triple certification within one working day.

Star-K president Dr. Avrom Pollak said: "Clients want stacked audits as a way to create efficiency and eliminate multiple audit fatigue—it is the clients, themselves, who are operating multiple certification/verification programs that find it helpful to work with an agency that can perform stacked audits…Having realized that many companies have all three certifications, we feel that the bundling of our certification efforts will add further efficiency and value on behalf of consumers throughout the world."

The joint audit is achieved by providing inspectors with training in all three auditing processes, allowing them to conduct them at the same time.

Star-K said demand for trusted kosher-certified products has increased in line with growing interest in organic foods, calling the kosher organic industry “a flourishing new specialty food category”. Kosher product sales grew 41% from 2003 to 2010, according to Mintel data. The market researcher estimates the value of kosher ingredients sold in the United States at $370bn a year.

Meanwhile, the Non-GMO Project’s verification scheme has become the fastest growing food eco-label in North America, and sales of certified products hit $1bn in 2011, according to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the natural products industry.

Hain Celestial Group’s WestSoy Tofu quality assurance manager Anthony Hodgson said Hain Celestial opted for a triple kosher-organic-non-GMO audit to use time and resources more efficiently.

He said: "The non-GMO and organic audit had some commonalities, as the auditor would ask a specific question it was already addressed by another audit and vice versa. Therefore it was an efficient use of everyone’s time. Going forward I would definitely recommend doing the audits together."

September, 2009

An excerpt from:"Entrepreneurs Find Ways to Make Technology Work With Jewish Sabbath"
Washington Jewish Week, July 2009

"The kosher consumer has an influence in the marketplace that goes way beyond actual numbers," said Dr. Avrom Pollak, president of STAR-K, which certifies as kosher everything from major appliance to food, alcohol and some prescriptions. For example, Dr. Pollak said, Orthodox Jewish households spend a lot more time, attention and money on their kitchens than other American consumers, which is why 14 major home appliance brands have sought kosher certification from STAR-K."

July, 2009

Cold and Kosher Gifford’s Gets STAR-K Kashrut Certification
Washington Jewish Week, July 2009

Kosher certification is “a badge of honor,” says Gifford’s Ice Cream & Candy Co. CEO Neal Lieberman. That’s one reason that he’s happy that the Silver Spring-based company received STAR-K certification earlier this year.

At food shows, kashrut “says to a potential buyer that that we really are taking this seriously….the certification process Is a pretty big administrative burden and we’re going to undertake it,” Lieberman said.

With the STAR-K seal, virtually all of the ice cream – 53 flavors – served at Gifford’s five shops in Maryland and the District, as well as Gifford’s products sold at local Whole Foods and Harris Teeeter stores and at Nationals Park, is kosher. The certification symbol can be seen on the side of each of the big tubs of ice cream in the stores.

Lieberman had wanted the 70-year old ice cream company to become certified since he became a partner in 2004. It opens up a new market for his product, he said, and that as a Jew, it was “important to me.”

The process wasn’t difficult, he said, but was time-consuming. It took about six to eight months because he had to get letters from every one of the company’s 250 suppliers certifying that the products Gifford’s buys from them are kosher. STAR-K authorities, according to Lieberman, were particularly impressed that he was already using the kosher, Israeli-made Elyon marshmallows. They were the only brand of “all-natural” marshmallows Lieberman could find.

Gifford’s Silver Spring ice cream plant won’t have full-time supervision, but will receive regular inspections, as is customary for most food manufacturers, according to Steve Sichel, Director or Development at STAR-K Kosher Certification. Sichel also said that while the ice cream sold in Gifford’s shops will be certified kosher, the shops themselves are not. Many other local ice cream shops – including Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs – have a similar kashrut status.

Lieberman noted that the company might, on occasion, sell a flavor-of-the-month in its shops using non-kosher ingredients, and that such a flavor would be manufactured on plant machinery specifically set aside for such purposes.

January, 2008

Magazine Article

Kitchen and Bath Business--a trade magazine for kitchen and bath professionals--makes reference to STAR-K in this informative article, Kosher Kitchen Dos and Don’ts, for the kitchen construction professional and kosher consumer, alike. A must read for those building a new home or remodeling their kosher kitchen…....

Click here to view full article.


August, 2007

Euroscope Magazine

An article that appeared in Euroscope Magazine - for BASF employees in Europe [No. 2/2007]. The essay discusses the STAR-K Kosher certifcation program at numerous BASF facillities worldwide.

Click here to view full article.

May 5, 2003

Wolf Appliance Company's Products
Now Certified By Star-K

Wolf Appliance Company, a leading manufacturer of luxury cooking instruments and corporate companion of Sub-Zero Freezer Company announced that the majority of its products are now certified as Sabbath - and holiday - compliant by Star-K Kosher Certification. All of the models of Wolf's gas range top, gas cooktop, pro-range, dual fuel range, electric cooktop, and built-in electric single and double oven are approved for use in acordance with the rules spcified by Star-K. "We have worked hard to receive this certification," said Jim Bakke, president and chief executive officer for Sub-Zero/Wolf. "We strive for product design that is aesthetically innovative and ergonomic, as well as beneficial to the specific needs of the Jewish faith."

October 2002

Star-K - Local Kashrus Agency with National Impact
By Staff Reporter

...Remarkably, the Star-K strives to maintain a healthy balance between its role as a local kashrus service agency and as a national symbol. This past summer, some 2000 Jewish athletes saw the local hospitality side of the Star-K. Baltimore was the host city for the North American Maccabi Games. As a result of the Star-K's supervision, the athletes, housed at the state university in suburban Towson, were able to eat kosher throughout the 4 days of the competition. The big hit for the athletes, who came from 20 cities and several foreign countries, were the tens of dozens of kosher-certified Krispy Kreme donuts made available to them during breaks in the games.

August 1, 2002

Companies Cashing in on Demand for Kosher
By Dan Mayfield

Three years ago, Eagle Ranch Pistachios of Alamogordo, N.M., got a request from one of its best customers. "We were requested to get a kosher certification from a customer we have a real good relationship with, a diamond broker in New York," Eagle Ranch co-owner Marianne Schweers said. "We do a lot of corporate gifts through the company. It’s home-based in Israel and decided it wasn’t going to do business with anyone that wasn’t kosher. So we said we’ll give it a shot."

Like most people in New Mexico, Schweers had no idea what kosher really meant. The diamond broker gave her a list of five kosher-certification organizations that put the familiar kosher symbols on food products: the circle with a "U" in it, the circle with a "K" in it, the star with a "K" in it, among others.

"We had no idea how easy it would be," Schweers said. Schweers went with "Star-K." "They’re the easiest to work with. Their rabbi comes out of Arizona and they realize we’re a mom-and-pop," she said. Now, on every package of Eagle Ranch pistachios is a star with a "K" in the middle. Since certification, Schweers said, her business has increased, although she’s not sure how much, if any, is directly related to that.

Eagle Ranch’s kosher certification is part of a growing trend in the specialty food business. Kosher foods are a $6 billion market in the United States and are expected to grow to a $7.5 billion market by 2005, according to Integrated Marketing Communications Inc., producers of the annual Kosherfest trade show.

In Schweers' case, h
er pistachios were certified as "pareve," which means meat and dairy free.

April 16, 2001

Appliances that help Jews Keep Kosher
By Annie Groer

WASHINGTON - In the beginning, strict biblical edicts governed cooking during the Jewish Sabbath and holy days.

These days, appliance-makers are adding features to help Jews cook yet comply with bans on work during the day of rest and starting fires on holidays. Dacor (since 1989), KitchenAid (since 1996) and General Electric (beginning this week) offer ovens and stoves equipped with what all call a “Sabbath mode.”

“There are two time periods when observant Jewish people cannot cook food in the regular manner,” said Rabbi Avrom Pollak, president of STAR-K, a Baltimore organization that certifies food as kosher. “On the Sabbath, you cannot cook, but you can keep food warm. On the holiday, one may actually cook food to be used on the holiday, but one cannot start a fire or turn a fire off.” All three companies have added switches that deactivate lights, beepers and electronic icons. GE and KitchenAid have added a switch to override their 12-hour safety shutoffs so food can be warmed for 24 hours or longer. GE’s new entry in the category also has included a time-delayed temperature change device. All three manufacturers have STAR-K certification for the Sabbath-mode appliances. The additional features are included in the standard prices.

Rabbi Pollak estimated that 500,000 U.S. households keep kosher, and their occupants represent a desirable target market. “They tend to place a lot more emphasis on their kitchens than the population at large. They tend not to eat out a lot. Family meals are an important part of life, so they put a lot of emphasis on what’s in their kitchen. They tend to spend a lot more when they remodel or buy new appliances.”

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