By Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Baruch Hashem, we live in a time that wherever we travel in the United States, from Bangor to Burbank, we have plenty of food choices that are reliably certified as kosher, bearing the symbol of a hashgachah that we’ve learnt to trust. In this context, soda – or pop, as they call it here in the Midwest – is an interesting phenomenon, in that it is often accepted as kosher in the U.S.A. even without a kosher symbol. This is because the most kashrus sensitive portion of a carbonated beverage is the flavored syrup, and almost every flavor produced by the three major soda companies in the USA are certified as kosher (Coca Cola by the OU, Pepsi Cola by Rabbi Charlop and Dr. Pepper/7UP by the cRc). [A complete list of all flavors that are kosher can be found on our website (www.crcweb.org) or can be faxed to you by calling our office at 773- 465-3900].
Although the flavored syrup is only one of several ingredients in soda, in truth, the other ingredients are relatively innocuous and there are no concerns of kailim since carbonated beverages are bottled without any heat (as opposed to non-carbonated “sports” drinks, juices and similar items).
Until recently, it was easy to apply the same logic to fountain soda – if the syrup was known to be kosher then there was no reason not to buy a drink from the fountain dispenser. However, over the past few months, 7-Eleven has introduced a new fountain soda machine into their stores which has raised doubts about these assumptions. In a traditional fountain soda machine, each flavor of soda comes out of its own spout.
This helps the store make sure that your Coke doesn’t have any Sprite mixed into it, and as a result also assures the kosher consumer that there isn’t any trace of non-kosher beverages in their kosher soda. However, the new machine has just one spout for four soda flavors (and three concentrated flavor shots if you would like to enjoy some lemon, cherry or vanilla in your soda of choice) which has led consumers to question whether some leftover non-kosher beverage from a previous customer might not end up in their kosher soda. This concern is compounded by the fact that a) one of the current choices of fountain drink is Gatorade that is not certified as kosher b) although the three flavors checked out as kosher during our most recent research – they are not guaranteed to remain acceptable.
In the end, our research confirmed that the people who designed the new fountain soda machine are as concerned about the mixing of different flavors as we are. With help from the technical people at 7-Eleven, plus many trips to our local store (and loads of paper towels to clean up the absolute mess we made there) our sticky effort showed the following:
Behind the bright, lit-up cover of the new fountain machine is a maze of pipes connecting the different flavored syrup pouches (kept in the back of the store) to the dispensing nozzle. At first glance, things didn’t look good from a kashrus perspective as the pipes all seem to go into just one internal nozzle which in turn go through yet another shared external nozzle.
After further analysis we realized that the shared external nozzle doesn’t pose a concern, because the carbonated water portion of every beverage leaves the inner nozzle from a different hole than the syrup does, and it is designed in such a way that even after all of the syrup comes out, the water continues to flow for a short time. Thus, there is basically a water flush of the inside of the external nozzle between every drink served. Still left to figure out was the internal nozzle, which had us pretty frustrated as every indication was that the different flavors passed through an inch or so of shared space, which meant that there could potentially be cross-over of the various flavors as they made their final journey into your ice-filled cup. However, after speaking it over with the 7- Eleven technical department we were shown confidential detailed diagrams of exactly how the internal nozzle works and – although we can’t share these proprietary details – we were 100% convinced that there is absolutely no possibility that different flavors can mix with one another.
So, the good news is that once you determine the syrup used in the carbonated soda is kosher, you may purchase it without a symbol on the bottle, and even in the new 7- Eleven fountain machine.
Rabbi Dovid Cohen is the Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc.