Kosher Food in a Non-Kosher Office

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Answers supplied by the OU Kashrut Department.

Even if a utensil is perfectly clean, non-kosher flavor may be absorbed into the “walls” of the utensil, and in many cases, the utensil may not be used.

Vapors rising out of non-kosher food have the halachic status of that food. Thus, when non-kosher vapors come in contact with the walls and ceiling of a microwave, they get absorbed into those surfaces, rendering the microwave non-kosher.

Q. Our office’s microwave is used for both kosher and non-kosher food. Can I use it to heat up my lunch? Does it make a difference if the food is a solid or a liquid?
A. To use the office microwave, one must double wrap the food. The wrappings do not have to be airtight; rather, the food should be covered on all sides in a manner that (a) does not allow it to come in contact with the walls or floor of the microwave, and (b) does not allow any of the condensation that forms on the ceiling of the microwave to drip into the food. It is perfectly acceptable for one “wrapping” to be a loosely closed plastic container and the other to be a paper or plastic bag. It makes no difference if the food is a liquid or a solid.

Q. Can I use a kosher microwave for dairy, meat and pareve?
A. Yes, if one uses the method discussed above.

Q. How well, if at all, do I have to clean out the office microwave before I put my double-wrapped food into it?
A. One should remove any noticeable pieces of food from the spot where the kosher food will be placed. There is no need to clean out the rest of the microwave provided that the food is completely covered.

Q. I brought a piece of fish to work in a reusable, pareve plastic container. If I consider the container as one “wrapping,” and put another wrapping on top of it, does the container remain kosher? What if the container is the “outside” wrapping?
A. In all cases, the inner “wrapping” remains kosher, but the outer “wrapping” does not.

Other Utensils
Q. The water cooler in my office has two spouts—one for cold water and one for hot. People use the hot spout to make tea, instant “cups of soup” or oatmeal. Of course, some of those foods are not kosher, and I’m wondering if I can use the spout for my kosher items?
A. Using the cold-water spout is not a problem. The problems with the hot-water spout are that (a) hot non-kosher liquids might splash onto the spout and (b) zeiah, steam, may rise from the non-kosher liquids and hit the spout. In either scenario, non-kosher flavors may get absorbed into the spout, making the hot water drawn from the spout questionable. As such, one should lechatchilah refrain from using a non-kosher spout. However, if one has a pressing need for hot water and has no other option for obtaining it, besha’at hadchak (in case of great need) he would be permitted to use it.

Q. The lunch area in our office has a can opener, peeler, bread-toaster (not a toaster oven), flatware, coffee mugs, glass dishes and glass cups available for anyone to use. Can I use them?
A. The can opener and peeler can be used after they are cleaned or rinsed off. The toaster and coffee mugs should be assumed to be non-kosher and should not be used. Similarly, flatware, glass dishes and glass cups should be assumed to be non-kosher and should not be used for hot products (or for spicy foods); Rema records the custom of not using such utensils for cold products on an ongoing basis; he states that if once in a while one has a need to use such utensils for cold products, he may do so after cleaning them carefully.

Q. At an office party, kosher cake and ice cream will be served, but the knife and serving utensil will probably not be kosher. The food is cold—may I eat the cake and ice cream?
A. Yes, as long as the knife and serving utensil are clean.

This article was featured in the Summer 2007 issue of Jewish Action.