Kosher certification is a very complex system of labeling, originally created for spiritual purposes. However, over the years many individuals have also found it to be a handy way of identifying foods for special diets. Before we go on, I believe it is important to address an ongoing debate regarding the safety of Kosher and Kosher “Pareve” products for those with milk allergies. Based on policies of the Orthodox Union, the world’s super power of Kosher certification, those individuals with a severe milk allergy should not rely completely on Kosher certification when selecting foods. A detailed explanation for our conclusion is stated on the Orthodox Union’s website as follows:
“The trace nuts and dairy disclaimer that is now printed on many products is there to warn consumers that although there are no nuts or dairy in the ingredients of the product itself, there is a possibility of parts per millions floating in the air and ‘contaminating’ the product.
The ‘contamination’ would only affect consumers with extremely severe allergies who can detect even the most trace amounts of the substance that they are reacting to. A product that is labeled OU (and thereby certified kosher parve) is halachically (by Jewish Law) parve. The parts per million does not affect the status of a product, because parts per million are negligible and have no halachic significance.
As an example, a factory might produce dairy and parve products on two separate production lines. Nonetheless, air-born particles of milk or whey powder might float onto the parve production line. Though a person might suffer an allergic reaction, the product is still halachically parve.
Companies have been especially cautious in the past few years to publicize this information as the public’s knowledge of allergens has grown.”
Fortunately, for most individuals who choose to cut dairy from their diet for religious, personal, social, or medical reasons, Kosher labeling can be a very useful tool. Kosher certification is issued by a number of different organizations throughout the world. For this reason, various organization-specific symbols are utilized to identify Kosher products. For a quick scan of the symbols to watch for, check the Crash Course to International Kosher Symbols.
If this list makes your head spin, just remember a few quick rules. There are some Kosher symbols that can help to quickly identify dairy ingredients in a pinch. A “D,” or the word dairy, on a label next to a “K” or “U” symbol (usually found near the product name) usually indicates the presence of milk ingredients. A “DE” on a label indicates that the product was produced on equipment shared with dairy products. Depending on the kosher certifier, a “D” may be used instead of a “DE” even if there aren’t any dairy ingredients, but the product is produced on equipment shared with products containing dairy. If the Kosher symbol includes the word “Pareve”, “Parev”, or “Parve”, then the food is considered both dairy and meat-free.
For a sample of how Kosher symbols can be read, we will look at the most relevant examples from the Orthodox Union’s decoder.
For a more extensive list of their Kosher labels and other important information for Kosher consumers, go directly to the Orthodox Union’s website.