NEW YORK — Name-brand foods like Oreo cookies, Duncan Hines cake mixes and Raisin Bran cereal are among the thousands of packaged goods on supermarket shelves that are certified as kosher.
But it’s not so easy to find kosher-certified over-the-counter medicines, which Rabbi Dovid Heber called “the last frontier.”
That may be changing.
The Orthodox Union, the most recognized certifier of kosher products in the country, has endorsed Triaminic cough syrup, making it the first mainstream over-the-counter medication the union has deemed acceptable under the dietary laws of Orthodox Judaism.
Efforts to develop a kosher Maalox are in the preliminary stages.
Triaminic, in packages bearing the OU symbol, was shipped to stores beginning last July after a division of the brand’s parent company, Novartis Consumer Health, worked with the union for a year and a half to certify eight varieties of the syrup.
Smaller labels and herbal or homeopathic lines have been certified in the past. And the antacid Tums was approved by Diamond-K, a smaller certifier, in the late 1990s, according to Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman, Diamond-K’s executive director.
Gelatin, glycerin pose problems
But many mainstream, brand-name products are problematic for observant Jews because of ingredients like gelatin or glycerin, which contain materials derived from non-kosher animals.
Though prescription medications are not subject to dietary laws because they are considered lifesaving, Orthodox rabbis say vitamins or products used to treat non-life-threatening conditions should be certified as kosher when possible, especially because they often contain flavors that make them more palatable.
“It makes things easier when you’re dealing with children and they’re sick,” said Arlene Mathes-Scharf, a food scientist who runs kashrut.com, a Web site that posts information about kosher products.
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, senior rabbinic coordinator for the Orthodox Union, said the kosher-certified cough syrup would appeal broadly not only to Jews who keep kosher but to others who follow religious dietary guidelines or are lactose intolerant.
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“Consumers are more sophisticated today,” Safran said. He likened the symbol of kosher certification to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Plants certified by the Orthodox Union are inspected by representatives who check a product’s ingredients and the methods of sterilization used to clean equipment used for non-kosher materials, Safran said. After the certification, inspectors then return to the site regularly, he said.
'Synonymous with quality'
“Whether it be from a cleanliness standpoint or making sure that these are the finest ingredients that have gone through certification, I think the process has over time become synonymous with quality,” said Debra D’Amico, senior brand manager for Triaminic.
To certify Triaminic, the over-the-counter division of Novartis first sent the OU a list of about 50 raw ingredients in the eight liquid varieties, according to Allison Johnson, who deals with quality assurance at the plant in Lincoln, Neb.
Only one raw material, an orange flavoring, had to be reconfigured to meet the standards for kosher pareve, which means no ingredients contain any dairy or animal products.
Only Triaminic syrup, not the brand’s chewable tablets or “thin strips,” were certified as kosher.
Safran said other pharmaceutical companies have shown interest in getting medicines certified. In addition, Novartis Consumer Health is developing a kosher Maalox for heartburn and indigestion.
In Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, which is home to many Orthodox Jews, some stores stocked name-brand cough medicines not certified as kosher, and at least one sold natural alternatives. A few women who did not want to be identified said they would give their sick children a non-certified medicine but would choose a kosher brand if it was available.
Nathan Maltz, who owns a pharmacy in the neighborhood, said he gets frequent questions from customers wondering if a product is kosher. He had a display of Adwe kosher medications but did not have Triaminic in stock.
“People will buy the product if they know it exists,” Maltz said.
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