By Natasha Baker
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With Passover just a month away a new app aims to help consumers keep kosher throughout the eight-day Jewish festival and to stay up to date on kosher products throughout the rest of the year.
Released by the Orthodox Union (OU), which promotes the values of the Orthodox Jewish community, the app called OU Kosher provides consumers with updates on products that have been certified by the OU, which is the world's largest kosher certification agency.
"The classic myth, even amongst secular Jews, is that the rabbi blesses the food. But the issue is not about blessing food. It's about the actual food that we're permitted to eat and the combinations of it," explained Gary Magder, director of digital media for the Orthodox Union.
In addition to providing information on which products are kosher, the app also sends alerts when new products are certified, or when existing products are no longer adhering to kosher standards.
And while the app can be used throughout the year, Magder said that it will be especially relevant during Passover when the rules on which foods to eat and which to avoid become more complex.
"What's kosher and what isn't during Passover becomes so much more complicated because certain kinds of products that are fine during the year are not fine to eat during that eight-day period," he said, adding the app includes chametz, the leavened foods that are forbidden during this time.
The kosher certification is dependent on both ingredients and the manufacturing process. When factories are involved, the certification becomes more complicated since various products can share the same equipment.
If the equipment has been used for dairy and is then used in the production of meat, or vice versa, then that equipment has to be either changed or cleaned in some way.
"The Orthodox Union has people around the world called mashgiach making visits to the people who produce kosher food. They are, in effect, inspectors who actually go into businesses and work with the production people to ensure their ingredients and process is producing kosher foods," Magder explained.
Consumers can send questions directly to the OU through the app about kosher products or on how to maintain kosher in their homes.
The Orthodox Union oversees the production of more than 1 million products worldwide, in 7,000 plants in 83 countries. Their largest growth area is in China where they have certified over 450 companies. The OU also supervises the companies that make the ingredients for kosher products.
The market for kosher products, according to Magder, extends beyond Jewish consumers. He explained that the extra level of trust and supervision that goes into certifying products as Kosher also makes them attractive to people with food allergies, or members of other religions with similar dietary restrictions.
"Because it's food, there's an intimate relationship there. For people who are kosher consumers, there's no cheating. It's either to the standard or it isn't. Kosher consumers don't take any chances."