Kosher Industry Profile

By Michael Boland, University of Minnesota.

Updated February 2012 by Malinda Geisler, content specialist, Iowa State University,

meat trayHistory
Kosher foods are prepared based on the Kashrut, Jewish laws dealing with the “proper” diet outlined in the Torah and the Old Testament. There are many detailed laws in the Kashrut such as meat and dairy must remain separate, both in production and consumption. Animals must be deemed clean animals and killed according to the laws of the Kashrut. All blood must be drained or cooked out of meat before consumption. Bovine or cattle are considered kosher animals because they are ruminant animals, chew cud and have cloven hooves. If an animal does not possess these distinctions, it is forbidden to be eaten.

Kosher Slaughter
The animal being slaughtered must be without disease or flaw. The origin of the animal is a concern to kosher production. Kosher meat is purchased from producers that are deemed disease-free. Locations with known cases of Mad Cow Disease (BSE) and Foot-and-Mouth Disease are not acceptable suppliers. The animal must be conscious when slaughtered and sedation is prohibited. Kosher production prohibits the use of any drug, hormone, antibiotic or miscellaneous protein that is administered or added to the feed of an animal. After slaughter; the lungs and organs are immediately inspected for lesions indicating illnesses. If significant lesions are found, especially ones attached tightly to the animal's tissue, it is deemed not kosher, or Treifah, meaning “torn” or “flawed.” “Glatt Kosher” is a term to describe lesion-free meat or lesions that can be removed by a “flick” of the finger (Wikipedia). Inspectors also inflate the lung with air and submerge it in water; if air escapes in the form of bubbles, the meat is deemed not kosher (Orthodox Union or OU). Kosher requires routine cleaning to remain capable of use for kosher. Hot water, steam and heat are used to sterilize equipment.

During kosher slaughter, or Shechita, the person who performs the slaughter, known as the Shochet, uses a special slaughtering knife. The knife is razor sharp and is inspected after each slaughter for flaws as the inspector runs his finger over the blade. The Shochet cuts horizontally across the throat, slicing through the trachea, esophagus and carotid arteries of the cattle. This causes the animal to become unconscious and spill the majority of the blood within seconds (OU). The cattle are then raised up, letting the remaining blood drain; this process is known as kashering. Consumption of blood is prohibited according to Kashrut so the meat is broiled, soaked or salted within 72 hours to ensure removal of any remaining blood. In addition, specific fats known as Chailev, the sciatic nerve and major arteries are required to be removed as they do not meet kosher standards. Unfortunately these are difficult to remove. The difficulty and labor required causes many slaughterers to sell the hind quarters as non-kosher.

In 2010 there were approximately 14 million regular kosher consumers in the United States with a potential of 45 million people. A 64 percent growth in kosher foods was realized between 2003 and 2008 with the market in the United States reaching $12.5 billion. UNIGLOBE Business and Marketing Solutions reports that there are more than 150,000 different kosher consumer food products. Food manufacturers including Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, Kraft and General Mills have at least some food products certified kosher. 

Sixty-two percent of respondents to a recent study by Mintel Organization International stated they buy kosher for its food quality. The second most common reason to purchase kosher food was general healthfulness with 51 percent. The survey of 2,500 adults found 14 percent of respondents indicating religious rules as the reason why they purchase kosher food.

A company must apply for kosher certification. Applications can be completed online by filling out a short questionnaire providing the company name, contact information and the nature of the product the company produces. Soon after, a Rabbinic Coordinator contacts the company and acts as a guide through the kosher certification process. The guide answers questions and focuses on the needs of the certification process. The application is reviewed. Depending on the area of production, a Rabbinic Coordinator is assigned to supervise certification of the company. The Rabbinic Coordinator or Rabbinic Field Representative visits and inspects the facility, estimates the fees of kosher certification and outlines necessary actions and procedures needed for the company to take to become kosher. Costs depend on the distance the representative travels, the frequency of visits required, complexity and the number of products. After inspection, the Rabbinic Coordinator completes a report and any issues are addressed and resolved. After a contract is approved and signed, a company receives its kosher certificate. Additional certification is required for kosher for Passover. Field representatives knowledgeable in the field of production visit the facility regularly and a Rabbinic Coordinator inspects annually.


Links checked December 2019.