The laws of kosher are complex and extensive. Given the complex nature of the laws of kosher, one should consult an Orthodox Rabbi whenever an issue arises.
Though an ancillary hygienic benefit has been attributed to the observance of kashrut, the ultimate purpose and rationale is to conform to the Divine Will, as expressed in the Torah.
Not too long ago, most food products were made in the family kitchen, or in a small factory or store in the local community. It was relatively easy to ascertain if the product was reliably kosher. If Rabbinical supervision was required, it was attended to by the Rabbi of the community, who was known to all.
Today, industrialization, transcontinental shipping and mass production have created a situation where most of the foods we eat are treated, processed, cooked, canned or boxed commercially in industrial settings, which can be located hundreds or thousands of miles away from home.
What adds further complication is that it is generally not possible to judge the kosher status of an item on the basis of the information provided in the ingredient declaration for a variety of reasons.
First, the product may be made from kosher ingredients, but processed on non-kosher equipment.
Second, the USDA does not require the listing of certain processing aids, such as pan liners and oils that serve as release agents. Though not legally classified as ingredients, these items could nonetheless render the product non-kosher.
Third, many ingredients can be kosher or non-kosher, depending on their source of origin. For example, glycerin and emulsifiers are made from either vegetable (most likely kosher) or animal oils (most likely non-kosher).
Finally, many ingredients are listed only in broad terms, with no breakdown of the many complex components that make up the actual item. For example, a chocolate flavor may contain 50 ingredients, but the ingredient declaration will list this entire complex of ingredients as “flavors”.
Unless a person is an expert in food production, the average consumer cannot possibly make an evaluation of the kosher status, which is why it is important to purchase only those products that have the endorsement of a reliable kashruth agency.
For more information please read our Kosher Guideline.