An aspect of Kashrut that most people would not think about is the transport of kosher produce, either by ship, road tanker or rail.
In some instances, the only issue involved in the kosher certification of a product is its transport. For example, mineral oil or paraffin, both petroleum products, are intrinsically acceptable. However, if they are transported to Australia by ship in the hold, then there are certain conditions that must be met to make sure that their kosher status is not compromised. (In case you are wondering, mineral oil and paraffin are used in the production of kosher certified materials, which go into the manufacture of kosher products)
In many cases, once we have completed the task of investigating the manufacture of products, then we have to consider their transport to other sites for completion of manufacture and packing or to be used in other products.
Let’s talk about a few actual examples.
Ethanol is manufactured in Queensland. From the plant it must be transported by road tanker to the port in the next town. There, it is held in the terminal in holding tanks until it can be shipped to Melbourne, where once again it is stored in tanks at the port. Road tankers then transport the ethanol to the refinery at Yarraville for further refining and drumming, or further road transport to factories. At all these stages, Kosher Australia must come to an arrangement with the company.
Another example is that of vegetable oil. The oil crushing plants are often situated closer to the growing areas and there are long distances to cover to the refining plants and to factories that use the refined oils. The various stages of road transport must meet kosher requirements.
What are the actual issues?
The basic principle is that of “kovush”. When a product remains in the same vessel for more than 24 hrs, it is said to absorb, from the walls of the container, what was previously held in that container. This means that all road transport of greater than 24 hours, (which is common because Australia is a large country, and the drivers by regulation need to sleep), all ship (hold) transport and storage in tanks at the ports, fall into this category.
In our discussions with many manufacturers and transport companies, we have come up with a list of kosher prohibited materials that are likely to be carried. These include glycerine, wine and grape juice, marine oils, tallow, hydrogenated fats and oils, stearates, wine lees and dairy products, to name a few.
How is this managed from a kosher point of view?
The ideal solution proposed by most kosher authorities is that the three previous loads in the vessel should be kosher compatible (in practice, not from the kosher prohibited list). By this stage, the non-kosher taint is overcome. The shipping personnel carefully choose holds (there are many holds in a ship) that meet these criteria. They also need to consider the adjacent hold of the current kosher load. This is because there is some transfer of product across the shared wall, according to halachah.( It has been noticed that acetic acid can be smelled in the hold adjacent to the hold in which it is being carried).
However, this protocol of three previous loads is not practical in many cases. We then rely on an actual koshering of the ship’s hold or road tanker. We work out a protocol of stringent caustic washes (and wash using hot sea water at sea), followed most importantly by steaming for a significant time. This is documented, and is available for our perusal.
At the ports, the initial step is an appropriate cleaning with steaming, and then the tanks are dedicated to kosher or kosher compatible product.
We also are pleased when dedicated trucks are used for road transport.
The arrangements for kosher transport are worked out carefully with each company, based on their individual needs. It takes many meetings and revisions of protocols, so that shipping companies have clear instructions. Lately we have been dealing directly with a major road transport company and have worked out a set of procedures for kosher road transport. This helps many of our manufacturers.
Of course, every now and again, mistakes do happen, and it is much to the credit of many companies that they take these transport conditions very seriously, and let us know, (‘front up’). The Rabbi will then consider how this mishap has affected the kosher status of the product in question, and what the next steps should be. It is, in fact, very reassuring that companies act in such a responsible manner, so that we can rely on them to deliver kosher product.