Pesach Purchases for Beginners & Beyond

With Pesach fast approaching, Rabbi Nissan Zibell of ‘Kashrus: Be in the Know’ shares valuable insight and helpful picture guides and lists to help you navigate the supermarket.

Can an item contain Kitniyos without being labeled as such by the Hashgacha? What causes an item to have conflicting Hashgacha statements, with one stating it’s Kosher for Pesach and the other indicating it’s not? Are dairy products labeled as Kosher for Pesach automatically Cholov Yisroel? Is it accurate that Diet Coke contains Kitniyos?

With Pesach fast approaching, Rabbi Nissan Zibell of ‘Kashrus: Be in the Know’ shares valuable insight and helpful picture guides and lists to help you navigate the supermarket.

For a pictorial guide, click here.


Pesach Purchases for Beginners & Beyond

Rabbi Nissan Zibell of ‘Kashrus: Be in the Know’

In this class, we will discuss some general guidelines for Pesach shopping that are relevant to people from different backgrounds and levels of observance. Some things addressed will be for those just starting out and some for those seeking to raise their personal standards and have clarity. It is important to note that no food product or kashrus standard discussed in this class should be taken as a recommendation or as an acceptable standard for your Pesach observance. Instead, it is strongly recommended that each person consult their personal Rov who can provide personalized guidance based on their circumstances to determine their appropriate level of observance for Pesach.

When shopping, there can be so many things that can go wrong when a person is not paying full attention as to what they are buying. It is crucial to inspect every single product to double and triple check that everything being bought is a) actually kosher for Pesach and b) according to the standard that one observes.

Unfortunately, every single year there are people who mistakenly purchase foods that are not certified for Pesach or they purchase foods which would not be up to their standard and it is simply due to a mistake of not being more careful and aware when shopping. At times we can enter a store that has a very big Pesach section and before we know it we may end up in an area in the store that is actually not part of the Pesach section, selling actual chametz and not realize that. Therefore when shopping, a person should first of all be very aware of that and clearly define what is the Pesach section and what is not.

Even if a person is clearly sticking only to the Pesach section, many mistakes can happen and products can end up on the shelves which were not supposed to be there. In addition there can be products there which are not at all up to the standard that you would want to be keeping for Pesach.

For starters, mistakes always happen and even if workers are very well trained and are very aware of what should be going on the shelves, things which are not supposed to be there still end up on the shelves on the Pesach section. This can happen for various reasons. First of all, many products can look very similar to one another and a Pesach product may look so similar to the one that is used throughout the year, and be easily confused. Likewise, cases may get mixed up and one case of the product that is kosher for Pesach may be loaded onto the shelf and the next case may not be kosher for Pesach and one will not notice that. In addition, someone could have been shopping in the chametz section and picked up something and then realized that they got the wrong item and then when they got to the Pesach section to switch it out, they’ll leave the chametz one on the shelf in the Pesach section. Since it looks similar it will not be noticed and the next shopper may mistakenly buy that. Obviously, the scenarios are endless and one should be extra careful.

And finally, there are also things on the shelf that clearly say certified for Pesach,could have a very good hashgacha and could even be up to the standard you would want, but they are unfortunately mislabeled and really are not kosher for Pesach. Alerts and notices may have gone out, but for whatever reason the store did not hear of this alert or you did not hear of it and somehow this item is still on the shelf. This obviously is a bit harder to control but it is an awareness that we need to have to keep our eyes and ears open since many times these alerts could be for things that you bought in the store and should be careful with. At times to rectify a mislabeled Kosher for Pesach item the Hashgacha will place an ink-jetted stamp somewhere on the carton or container stating “not kosher for Pesach”, and that’s how they retract their Pesach certification. If you don’t notice the ink-jetted stamp, you won’t even know that this item is not kosher for Pesach.

All these are things to keep in mind when shopping for Pesach, and it can easily occur even if you are being extra careful to only stick to the Pesach section, as these things happen within the Pesach section. Clearly, there are so many things that can go wrong and end up in your cart. As we mentioned earlier, there could be many items in the Pesach section which are not something you would be comfortable consuming as it isn’t up to your standards. You therefore want to be extra careful and read all the fine print to make sure that even if an item is actually kosher for Pesach, has a reliable Hashgacha and it is in the right section, you want to confirm it is something you would want to bring home and use on Pesach.

At times, you could come across different terms used by hashgachos when they’re certifying an item and it could be in small fine print, sometimes just in Hebrew, sometimes in English, sometimes no mention at all. Therefore, for starters, one needs to be very clear as to what standards they should be following and once they know about that, they should know how to differentiate between which products would be good for them and which products would not be good. In addition, you want to have an understanding of what the wording next to a logo means. Based on that you can decide whether you should be buying this or not. We’ll cover some things a Pesach shopper should be aware of.

The first general thing which we’ll cover is Kitniyos. Kitniyos are various types of legumes, peas, certain nuts, beans, seeds, grains, and kernels. And these Kitniyos are not consumed by Ashkenazi Jews and even by some Sephardic Jews as well. There are products out there certified by a hashgacha that you’re familiar with, whether it’s OU or OK or CRC from Chicago or the like, and you may see that and automatically think, okay, it’s fine, but really if you look right under or next to it in small print, and sometimes in larger, it will say Kitniyos. That means that this is certified only for those that consume Kitniyos, which would mean most Sephardic. So that’s something to keep in mind. Usually it’s pretty clearly marked and one could see it. However, at times it may not be clearly marked and one should be aware of that and know what to look out for.

However, when it comes to Kitniyos, there are some tricky areas that are not clear cut. There are some things that some agencies hold is Kitniyos and some agencies hold is not Kitniyos. We’re not going to get into every single one, but one example is cumin, which is a spice. The OU, for example, holds that it’s not Kitniyos, but other agencies like the CRC Chicago and others hold it is Kitniyos. Now when the OU holds something is not Kitniyos, they’re not even going to declare it or label it as Kitniyos. So you will see a container of spices that will say OU-P and doesn’t declare as Kitniyos. You may think, okay, it’s fine, but really most authorities hold that it is Kitniyos. So we need to be a bit more educated as well, as to be able to realize these differences. Now there could be a spice mix which will have cumin in it, or there could be other prepared foods that one of the ingredients is cumin and it will be certified OU-P and not declare Kitniyos for that reason. This demostrates that sometimes even if Kitniyos is not declared, there could be Kitniyos present according to the standard that you follow.

In addition, there’s a concept in Halacha called Kitniyos Shenishtanu, which means Kitniyos that has undergone a significant transformation, so much so that it is considered to have acquired a whole new identity. This transformation is so substantial that it is halachically permissible to consume according to many opinions. While not everyone accepts this concept, many Reliable Hashgachos do. Some examples of ingredients that may fall into this category include Aspartame, a sweetener used in sugar-free drinks, or citric acid found in many foods. There are numerous other ingredients derived from Kitniyos that, due to extensive transformation, are no longer considered Kitniyos by many hashgachos.

For a comprehensive list of these ingredients and foods they can possibly be found in, please refer to the attached document. These ingredients are commonly found in foods and beverages like diet coke, diet sprite, or coke zero, all of which contain aspartame or other sweeteners derived from Kitniyos. While the OU will not mention anything about Kitniyos on the label, according to many opinions, there is a presence of Kitniyos in these products, and individuals who adhere to that standard will not want to consume them. This distinction is particularly evident in Eretz Israel, where regular coke, certified by Rabbi Landau’s hashgacha, is also certified by him for Pesach consumption. However, diet coke, coke zero, and diet sprite, all bearing Rabbi Landau’s hashgacha, are designated for year-round use only, not for Pesach. Instead, another basic Rabbanut hashgacha provides the Pesach

certification, as Rabbi Landau refrains from certifying products with derivatives of Kitniyos, despite some leniencies that may exist once its Nishtanu. This practice extends to diet coke in America as well; while the OU certifies it, it still contains Kitniyos Shenishtanu, without any declaration from the OU of kitniyos. Similarly, in Canada, diet coke with the COR certification will have this distinction, while the MK Montreal does not certify Kitniyos Shenistanu and therefore does not certify diet coke. It’s crucial to consult a rov if unsure about consuming products containing Kitniyos Shenistanu, which can be found in various items such as hot dogs, deli meat, cream cheese, and more. Since citric acid and other derivatives can also be sourced from non- Kitniyos sources, stricter hashgachos ensure that their ingredients are not derived from Kitniyos, thus avoiding any Kitniyos-related issues.

Regarding which hashgachas accept this leniency of Kitniyos Shenistanu, generally, Heimishe Hashgochos do not accept it. As far as I’ve been told, national hashgachas such as MK Montreal and Star K do not accept it, while those that do accept it include OU, Kof-K, CRC Chicago, COR from Toronto, and others.

When shopping, another consideration is the matter of Gebrokts. Gebrokts refers to matzah that has come into contact with liquid or water, potentially causing parts of the flour in the matzah that are not well mixed to become chametz. This concern is kept by many God-fearing individuals, particularly among Chassidim, who wish to be extra cautious during Pesach. Therefore, if you adhere to the practice of avoiding Gebrokts, it’s essential to ensure that any products you purchase are clearly labeled as non-Gebrokts.

If a product doesn’t have this designation, you can check the ingredients to see if it contains matzah meal or matzah and examine the allergen statement for any mention of wheat allergens. If you find either of these, it indicates the presence of matzah in the product, making it unsuitable for use. It’s important to note that hashgachos do not typically specify if something is Gebrokts, so you won’t see designations like OU-Gebrokts or OK-Gebrokts. Therefore, you must specifically look for products labeled as non-Gebrokts or ensure that the item is free from matzah by examining the ingredients. Sometimes, when a product is labeled as gluten-free, it indicates that it contains no matzah, even if it doesn’t explicitly state non-Gebrokts. The gluten-free statement itself is sufficient to indicate the absence of matzah.

Another confusing scenario while shopping is encountering a product with two different hashgachos, where one indicates it is kosher for Pesach, while the other states it is not kosher for Pesach or is for year-round use only. This discrepancy raises questions about potential errors or conflicting information. The question is, is this a mistake? Is there a printing error? Which one is the true staement? Are both true? Could both of them be true? What is going on?

In reality, both statements could be accurate. One hashgacha may deem the product kosher for Pesach, while another does not. Several reasons could account for this disparity. For instance, if one hashgacha certifies kitniyos and the other does not or if there is an ingredient that is kitniyos shenishtanu, where one hashgacha considers it permissible for Pesach while another does not. Alternatively, if a product is Gebrokts, some hashgachos will not provide certification due to the associated concerns, while other will have no issue certifying it.

Another possibility is that a hashgacha may not be interested in certifying a particular product for Pesach. This could be due to various reasons, such as deeming it unnecessary or unsuitable for Pesach observance based on their own criteria. Consequently, they may decline to certify the product and advise the company to seek certification from another Hashgacha. In some cases, the second hashgacha may be weaker and not as thorough in their certification process. They might overlook serious issues, such as the presence of problematic flavors which usually contain alcohol in their process, which is a serious chametz concern. Additionally, there may be kashering difficulties at the manufacturing facility that the weaker hashgacha is unaware of doing properly. Consequently, they could end up certifying a very problematic product. Therefore, when encountering conflicting hashgachos—one strong and one weak—it’s essential to conduct thorough research before accepting the product’s pesach status, as serious issues may be present.

Additionally, while a product may have a reputable hashgacha certifying it as kosher for Pesach, it’s essential to consider your family’s personal minhagim (customs). Some families avoid consuming certain ingredients, such as garlic, cottonseed or the like. In such cases, individuals should check the product’s ingredients, as not all hashgachos provide detailed information about these nuances by their logo. Some hashgachos may go the extra mile to label products containing garlic or cottonseed for those who observe these customs. For instance, the New Square hashgacha on their processed meats will specifically label if garlic is present by writing “leochlei shum” for those who consume garlic. Similarly, Rabbi Weissmandel’s Hashgacha will indicate the presence of cottonseed by labeling it as “leoclhei cottonseed” on items like chips, mayonnaise, or the like that contain cottonseed oil. However, it’s important to note that not all hashgachos go to such lengths to declare these nuances in ingredients. Therefore, if your family has specific minhagim, it’s advisable to scrutinize product ingredients accordingly, as they may not always be explicitly mentioned by the hashgacha.

There’s a common misconception that any dairy product labeled as “kosher for Pesach” especially in Hebrew lettering, will automatically be considered Cholov Yisroel. However, this is not the case. Just because a product is certified kosher for Pesach, it does not imply it is Cholov Yisroel. People assume that there probably was a mashgiach there watching everything but in truth, it’s not the case whatsoever. It’s crucial to see the words “Cholov Yisroel” clearly stated on the packaging to confirm its status as such.

When it comes to frozen vegetables, special attention is needed for Pesach. While plain frozen vegetables are generally acceptable throughout the year (bug concerns aside), during Pesach, they require a reliable kosher for Pesach certification. This is because they can contain derivatives of kitniyos or chametz (such as citric acid), and they may be processed on the same line as chametz-containing products like frozen meals that have pasta and vegetables, or breaded vegetables. They can also share a line with things that are clearly kitniyos. Hence, it’s crucial to choose frozen vegetables with a trusted kosher for Pesach certification.

Speaking of frozen vegetables, it’s worth mentioning that green beans, snow peas, sugar snap peas, edamame, and similar items are considered kitniyos, despite not appearing to be traditional beans. Therefore, they should not be consumed on Pesach.

When purchasing matzah, handmade shmurah matzah with reliable hashgacha is the ideal choice. If unavailable or unaffordable, machine-made matzah labeled as “shmurah” is the next best option. If, for any reason, a person doesn’t have access to shmurah machine matzah, they should consult with their Rov to determine if purchasing regular basic machine-made matzah with a reliable Pesach hashgacha is acceptable. However, if this is the case, it’s crucial to exercise caution because some companies produce both kosher for Pesach machine-made matzah and non-kosher for Pesach matzo. The non-kosher for Pesach matzo is essentially chametz, just like a regular cracker, despite being labeled as matzah. Therefore, one must be extremely vigilant as it considered actual chametz. This warning also extends to matzah meal, where a product labeled as such may, in reality, be pure chametz and not suitable for Pesach use.

When it comes to purchasing egg matzah, many people may do so without realizing. According to Ashkenazi tradition, egg matzah should only be consumed by specific groups, namely young children, the elderly, or the infirm. Others should not consume it due to various halachic doubts in the matter.

When buying items like chocolate-covered matzah one needs to be aware of a few factors. Firstly, it’s essential to understand that the matzah used in chocolate-covered products is typically regular non shmurah machine-made matzah. If considering consuming such matzah, it’s advisable to consult with one’s Rov. Secondly, since chocolate-covered matzah involves the matzah coming in contact with liquid, it’s considered gebrokts, which may be a concern for those who adhere to gebrokts restrictions. Thirdly, it’s worth noting that chocolate-covered matzah often uses egg matzah. This Matzah has restrictions on who can consume it. Therefore, consumers should be mindful of this when purchasing such products. While some packaging may clearly indicate who should consume the product, others may not, so it’s crucial to check carefully, as the information may be in small print or located in a less conspicuous area of the packaging. During Pesach shopping, people always purchase grape juice. It’s important to note that grape juice falls under the same Halacha as wine regarding the requirement for it to be mevushal (cooked) in order for a non-Jew to handle it. Non-mevushal grape juice is common, and requires careful handling just like non-mevushal wine would.

We cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the standards that certifications are actually certifying. Please refer to the attached documents for a glossary and images illustrating what to watch out for. The certification details may appear in fine print next to the Hasgacha, be written in Hebrew, or use unfamiliar terminology. For instance, someone once misinterpreted “Mechil Kitniyot” on a chocolate bar as meaning it contained no Kitniyot, whereas it actually indicates the presence of Kitniyot in Hebrew.

Certification details might be inconspicuously stamped on the bottom of a soda can or yogurt container, specifying kosher only for those who consume Kitniyot, or indicating non-kosher for Pesach retracting the clear and visible Pesach certification on the item. Therefore, it’s imperative to scrutinize every detail while shopping. Check items not only before placing them in your cart but also before checking out and again before bringing them into your home. By doing so, you ensure that everything entering your household is free from such concerns. May all these efforts contribute to a kosher and joyous Pesach for all and the ultimate redemption from Galus!

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