There is no better way to demonstrate how sophisticated the field of kashrut has become than to consider the technology behind OU Kosher.
One critical component of OU Kosher’s cutting-edge technology platform is the Ingredient Approval Registry, which keeps track of approved ingredients used in manufacturing food products. “This includes some 1.3 million products that are OU certified, and roughly another one million that are certified by other agencies whose standards we trust,” explains Miriam Greenman, chief information officer for the OU.
“It isn’t only retail consumers who rely on us, the world’s largest kashrut agency, for OU-certified products; food industry companies and even other kashrut agencies the world over also depend on the OU,” says Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO, OU Kosher.
Thousands of OU clients enjoy the accessibility of OU Kosher’s customer portal known as OUDirect, cumulatively using the site approximately one million times each month. “Our client portal is a game changer, empowering companies to easily manage their kosher program online at their convenience,” says Greenman. “With just a few clicks, OU clients can change ingredients in a product, submit new products, print kashrut certificates or simply pay an invoice. Easy access to our large Univeral Kosher Database helps companies find acceptable ingredient sources that the OU or partner agencies have already approved.” For example, if a factory needs to add or replace an emulsifier in a product, its staff can easily find an OU-approved option. This allows for a streamlined approval process so they can begin using the ingredient without jeopardizing their kosher status or interrupting production. Using already approved ingredients expedites a product’s release to the market.
“OUDirect’s client portal helps with customer management of their kosher program any time of day or night,” notes Rabbi Moshe Zywica, OU Kosher executive rabbinic coordinator (RC). “In our fast-paced global business world, accurate, up-to-date information is essential.”
“Years ago, every kosher certification agency managed its information independently,” says Rabbi Avraham Juravel, OU Kosher’s RC for technical services. “Every customer had to provide kosher certificates for each ingredient they wanted to use in an OU-certified product. This was a long and tedious process.” Today, with participation and additions by the major kosher agencies, OU personnel and clients have access to current information for over 2.4 million kosher-approved products and ingredients.
Tech with a Mission
At the core of OU Kosher are the more than 850 rabbinic field representatives (RFRs), the largely unsung heroes who are charged with conducting site inspections in plants all over the world.
OUDirect enables RFRs to easily track their plant assignments, plan their site visits and conduct inspections. Gone are the days when an RFR would have to print reams of paper before visiting a facility. Armed with a mobile device, RFRs can now use the mobile-friendly website to complete their inspection reports in real time, answering the questions and annotating relevant information as they move through a plant. Every RFR also has access to the products and ingredients of each company he is inspecting, and can manage updates that surface during the inspection as well.
“Kosher certification technology is a journey,” says Greenman. “As technology in general becomes more complex and nuanced, we have to stay ahead of the curve in terms of both systems and security. Our goal is to use technology to help our clients and our team, and of course, to ultimately help the kosher consumer find kosher products wherever they may be.”
Rachel Schwartzberg is a writer and editor who lives with her family in Memphis, Tennessee.