Know Your A-B-C-DE’s
Are You Well ‘Equipped’?
Join an insightful conversation between Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger and Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher. Following is a loose transcript of the Q&A session discussing the differences between the various kashrus symbols related to dairy equipment. View it in its entirety Here
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: Rabbi Elefant, first off, thank you for your time. The tzibbur is thirsty for kashrus related content and you giving us from your valuable time is much appreciated.
Rabbi Elefant: It is my utmost pleasure.
Rabbi Hisiger: We would like to discuss a very relevant question. On supermarket shelves we often see products with an OU-DE (dairy equipment) on the label. What does that mean? How is it different than OU-D? Does it mean there is no milk in the product? Can one eat it with meat? Is it just an allergen statement? I am sure you have been asked this question numerous times.
Rabbi Elefant: Yes, we have been asked this question many, many times. In fact, we have a dedicated line where a rav answers kashrus questions, and the most popular question we get is: are classic Oreo cookies dairy or just dairy equipment? We probably get that question three hundred times a week. Now, it may be the same person asking every time, but we get that question very often.
The question is, do they actually have dairy ingredients, or were they just made on dairy equipment without the equipment being kashered in between.
The moshol I give to explain DE is, when you cook spaghetti in a clean dairy pot you cannot eat it with meatballs, but you do not have to wait six hours to eat the spaghetti if you previously ate meat. That’s what dairy equipment means.
The issue is that there are products the company does not want to list as DE and would rather just list as dairy. This is the case with classic Oreos; they are listed as dairy, but in reality they are just made on dairy equipment. Their reasoning is that they want to leave themselves leeway to revert back to dairy in the future.
Rabbi Hisiger: Is this change to dairy designation a new development? I remember in the past that some items did have a DE.
Rabbi Elefant: Classic Oreo cookies never had a DE. What has recently changed is that the OU started using the OU-DE label. We used to just have OU-Pareve or OU-Dairy which would include dairy equipment as well. We made the decision to add these symbols because many consumers wanted to know if an item was dairy or just dairy equipment. Often, they would try to figure it out by reading the ingredient panel. We were concerned that the average consumer does not have the specialized knowledge necessary to figure out if an item is truly dairy by reading the panel. Since we were concerned that consumers would be misled, the OU changed to using the DE label.
On the other hand, it is not so easy to determine if a product can be DE instead of dairy. Firstly, you have to know the halachic ramifications of such a designation. Secondly, and more importantly, even if the product itself is not dairy, the equipment has to be completely clean of dairy items, which can be hard to determine. Going back to my moshol of the spaghetti pot, the spaghetti can be eaten after meat if the pot was clean, but if it was dirty with dairy ingredients the spaghetti is really milchig and you cannot eat it after meat.
However, as I said, more and more consumers were demanding this change, so we did it. Additionally, some companies specifically wanted DE.
There are three types of companies: Some companies say they are DE and want to be listed as such, some don’t know the difference, or don’t care, and some do not want to be labeled as DE. They say it is not clear, and they don’t want to start with it. These companies, which includs Nabisco the makers of Oreos, are listed as dairy, even though they are really DE. Since the consumers want to know, we make the information available online and over the phone. The only problem with this is that you must keep on checking. Just because it was DE last week doesn’t mean it’s DE this week. That is why we get many repeat callers about classic Oreo cookies; we tell them to keep calling and checking.
That is the long and short of DE. It is a very important designation. People want this information, so they can use these products after eating meat and not wait six hours.
Rabbi Hisiger: Now, you mentioned about the hotline, can you share the number with us?
Rabbi Elefant: Sure, the number is 212-563-4000 or 212-613-8241. All year round we have one Rabbi who is dedicated to answering kashrus questions, and as Pesach approaches we increase our staff to answer more questions. It is always amazing to see how many people are asking questions and want to do the right thing regarding kashrus.
Rabbi Hisiger: We are blessed to have you and the other rabbonim to guide us in the proper approach to kashrus.
Rabbi Elefant: It is our zchus.