Better than the OU?


beech-nutBy Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

In an interview in Mishpacha’s current issue, the co-owner of First Choice baby foods tells of his impetus for starting his business:

“I’m a chassidishe guy – I got married at 19. We had a baby, and when we went to the grocery store, my wife took the Beech-nut jar off the shelf – that’s all they had. I said, “Let’s try to get one with a better hechsher. You get water with a hechsher, salt with a hechsher – why not this?

My opinion may not count. I have been known to buy water without a hechsher. But when faced with the choice of competing hechsherim, I will usually prefer the OU insignia to that of a mom-and-pop outfit.

It’s been decades since I last heard OU kashrus characterized as run by a bunch of modernish rabbis who spend most of the day mixed swimming with their wives who don’t cover their hair, and got semicha through a multiple-choice test. It wasn’t true back then, and it is certainly not true today.

Having had many friends who worked in kashrus, I’ve heard all the stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. I know that anyone who walks into the daily mincha minyan of the OU mashgichim has to be impressed by their yiras shomayim, their credentials as talmidei chachamim, and the diversity of yeshivos from which they came. I know that many kashrus decisions today require technical skills to analyze complexities of modern food technology. The new guy on the block just doesn’t have the experience and access to specialists that larger outfits like the OU has. And I would never, ever want to trust a for-profit kashrus organization (i.e. where the mashgichim or administrators gain or lose depending on whether a particular account is retained) when I could chose a hashgacha like the OU in which pecuniary gain is not a direct issue. I also appreciate the fact that the top of the halachic pyramid at the OU is occupied by two recognized authorities, not one. Add to that some items that the small guys don’t provide – the transparency about policies, access to mashgichim, and a data base of issues and answers.

Unfortunately, while no kashrus agency has a perfect record, the stories I’ve heard about some of the smaller operators leave me even more committed to the OU. These include the selection of personnel by some of the other agencies on the basis of beard length and nusach davened, rather than competence. Or, when faced with the really intractable problems, having to go elsewhere for advice and for important ingredients – usually to the OU!

Always eager to learn, I looked to the rest of the article to find out what makes some other hechsher better than that of the OU. When nothing showed up, I went to the “About” section of the company’s website. Nothing there either about wanting to offer a product with a “better” hechsher than the OU. I did learn, however, that the company’s products are under the supervision of the OU. (They are also serviced by several other agencies, all of whom charge for their overlapping services. Kashrus, it seems, has become more partisan than a congressional joint subcommittee meeting. The costs of having multiple hashgachos, of course, are passed on to the consumer. Insisting on “better” hechsherim than the OU has a price – and we, the consumers pay it.)

While I have little use for water with a hechsher, I would guess that HKBH loves the dedication of the individual consumer who insists on what he or she believes are hidurim in kashrus. I am staking a lot on a conviction that He also appreciates those with a dogged commitment to the bottom line in Shulchan Aruch that does not demand those hidurim as a matter of law, and to the approach of many sugyos in Chulin where Chazal permitted entire classes of foodstuffs – without supervion at all – because they considered any objections to be not of real halachic concern.

I don’t believe for a second, however, that it is ever appropriate to go for the hidurim at the expense of basic competence. I’ll go with the OU.

Likely, the interviewee who uttered those few ill-considered words was just having a bad day.

Must have been something he ate.

This article first appeared at CROSS CURRENTS.

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  1. Very true as a talmid of rabbi Belsky he takes us to OU to get shimush I can testify there’s nothing better than OU and everyone relies on OU.

  2. Thank you Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, thank you, thank you!!! This should be mandatory reading for every Kosher consumer. I’ve been trying to same thing for years. This perception that a Heimisha Hechshir is better than the OU and ONLY they can be used is ludicrous and misleading.
    The OU, OK, Star-K, etc… are Bnei Torah who are mumchim in hilchos Kashrus.
    Also, you will find, that the products with just the OU are cheaper than when it has additional hechsherim. One has to be very careful with Yiddisha money. Rabbi Adlerstein, keep spreading the truth. Thank you Matzav for posting this very important article.

  3. Rabbi Adlerstein, with all due respect, and while I cannot disagree with a single word you wrote, I must tell you that you’re taking the article way too seriously. A quick perusal will soon convince you that you don’t need to pay such close attention. Some of the words are indeed ill-considered, ill-conceived, or sometimes just plain silly, but it’s meant to be entertaining and that’s about it. Perhaps a person of your stature, more accustomed to leafing through Sefarim of a higher caliber, just isn’t used to the style.

  4. While the author makes some valid points, the snide and condescending tone of the article is wholly inappropriate.

  5. Thank you think I will stick to a major agency rather than some one that really doesn’t know the food industry doesn’t have labs to check product

  6. Let me preface that I do believe that the ou is a good hashgacha (and i rely on the ou hashgacha for many items) and that I work in kashrus (although not the ou)
    The truth is I did not read or see the magazine but even if it did have an inappropriate article that does not justify this rant of rabbi alderstein. (Are u affiliated with ou? )
    You obviously have no inkling of what kashru Certification is and you certainly don’t know anything about what goes on in manufacturing.
    I wont give an opinion on the need for a hechsher on any given item. Ill leave that for you. But can you please tell me how plain water is bottled? Is there a concern regarding the machines that might be used to fill other NON KOSHER liquids? I’m sure you know all the inns and outs since you have opinions. I’m just asking a simple question. Do you know what the ou mashgiach does when he inspects a facility? Do you know what the “heimeshe” mashgiach does? What about bishul / pas yisroel?any difference between them?
    What about kashering from non cholov yisroel?
    I can go on and on but I think anyone reading this gets the idea and an appology is due.
    Again I did not read the mag and if indeed they had a inappropriate article that doesn’t justify this one

  7. i think the writer is missing the point, the OU is a wonderful hasgacha and very professional, If the OU is fine for you then great, if you would like a higher level also great, Live and Let Live

  8. As a mashgiach for the ou. There are many chasidishe hecsherim who rely on the ou
    So he is just talking out of ignorance.

  9. Rabbi Adlerstein wrote:
    “The costs of having multiple hashgachos, of course, are passed on to the consumer. Insisting on “better” hechsherim than the OU has a price – and we, the consumers pay it.”
    This is not really true. Most companies charge the most they think they can get away with, without losing sales. An extra hechsher is simply marketing.
    They probably charge the same price they would charge otherwise, which is not substantially more than the national brands on most products. therefore, their having an extra hechsher with more hebrew letters is to make the product more attractive to consumers who will trust it more.

  10. Give the fellow a break. He took the initiative and started a business supporting himself and other frum families. If his reasoning is not to your liking maybe his product is. May all find a respectable parnasa whatever the inspiration!

  11. OU has indeed evolved to respond to the very complex and worldwide sourcing of products, but let us talk about the very wide base of that pyramid. A higher up in OU is on record praising their worldwide network

  12. Im a mom, and I enjoyed the interview. I even decided to make the change to First Choice. In part because of the freshness of ingredients and in part because Im supporting a Heimishe yid.
    Now for the writer of this article, Im not sure what his bottom line is here?? is it to promote Beech nut? to take away parnassah from one of ours? or to just go on a Lashon Hara rant? definitely not Matzav material.

  13. Wait till everyone finds out how much of the heimishe food with a “better” hechsher is really re-packaged OU food….

  14. No question the ou is state of the art, and I am much more comfortable having them certify a complex product. However, they do have kashrus policies in certain areas that I am not comfortable with and for those products I choose heimish. It is not a question of know how or expertise, it is a question of policy.

  15. Yes, the OU is a reliable, world-class hashgocha, and yes, many “more frum” hashgachos rely on the OU where needed or appropriate. However there are many different shittos in kashrus regarding bishul akum or the use of certain food dyes. If the OU takes a more lenient position on these, one who prefers to be stringent is well-advised to search out a hashgacho that is stringent. Of course, one needs to make sure that those giving the hashgacho are knowledgeable in all the industry issues, and that may not be the case with the smaller hashgachos. (This is not necessarily their fault – a larger operation like the OU is more able to stay on top of things.) Therefore, I understand the need for multiple hashgachos. And the commenter above who say hashgachos are marketing and are not necessarily increasing the cost of the product makes a very good point.

  16. Seems clear that the author knows little about why there are “heimish” hechsheirim. Everyone knows that even the heimish ones rely on the expertise of the OU when giving a hechsher to figure out what certain food additives are. The heimish hechsheirim are, officially, there to re-evaluate certain shailos in the production that many don’t want to rely on the say of the OU poskim. Famous examples are bishul yisroel on tuna fish and potato chips. Many Yidden want to know that the production was done with a deference to certain “chumros” or lack of kulos. All Adlerstein is doing is ripping the word choice of better hechsher, which may or may not have been his word. Magazines often change words for better reading. Calm down and realize that, yes, there are reasons for different hechsherim. The real question about this business is, what is the issue that results in kulos/chumros and where would the OU and others differ. If there are none than it is unnecessary, if there are then please go back to your corner and let others be. (BTW the OU gives a hechsher on many bottled waters. Uh oh!)

  17. Do you have a direct way to contact the Rabbi? Its becoming clear that Matzav is using this article for their own personal agenda and are refusing any dissenting comments.

  18. It’s an indisputable fact that many heimishe kashrus agencies use info from OU. However, as mentioned above there are certain shitos of the OU that differ from the heimishe hechsherim. What no one mentioned is that when the OU gives a hashgocha in conjunction with a heimishe agency MANY TIMES OU RELIES ON MASHGICHIM FROM HEIMISHE KASHRUS AGENCIES.
    Every parent is entitled to feed his/her child food that they feel is “best”.

  19. Rabbi Adlerstein, while I very often enjoy your postings and comments, I need to take issue with you on one of the points you made. Every kosher consumer be aware (eyes wide open) that the hashgacha industry is a business. Therefore there is no such thing, at least in the U.S.A., that hashgacha large or small (yes this includes the OU as well) does not take financial, as well as financially strategic considerations when making hashgacha decisions. This is something to which I can personally attest, with many years first hand knowledge. Just telling the truth, no matter how unappealing it may be.