“D-E” (Dairy Equipment) Certification: Mysteries and Facts

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January 07 2013

It is common to encounter products that bear a “D-E” or “Dairy Equipment” kosher symbol, or to hear of products that have been made on dairy equipment but contain no dairy ingredients. As this is often a confusing topic, let’s methodically examine the issues involved.

The Halachic Status of Pareve Foods Cooked in Dairy (or Meat) Equipment       

There are five halachic points which form the basis for this discussion:

1. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 95:1-2) rules that if a pareve food was cooked in a totally clean dairy vessel, the food may be eaten with meat, and that if a pareve food was cooked in a totally clean meat vessel, the food may be eaten with dairy. The Rema argues and rules that pareve food cooked in a dairy ben yomo (i.e. used with hot dairy in the past 24 hours) vessel may not be eaten with meat, and vice versa, but that b’dieved, if such foods were mixed together, they may be eaten. (Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch, pareve soup cooked in a totally clean dairy pot could be eaten with meat, whereas the Rema would prohibit it.)

2. The Shach (ibid. s.k. 3), invoking several earlier authorities, rules that even according to the Shulchan Aruch, one is not permitted lechatchilah to cook a pareve food in a dairy vessel with the intention of eating the food with meat, and vice versa; the Shulchan Aruch only permits one to eat a pareve food cooked in a dairy vessel with meat (and vice versa) if the pareve food was already cooked in the dairy vessel (and vice versa) in violation, or without the intent of eating the food with meat (or vice versa). (Thus, the Shulchan Aruch would not permit one to cook pareve soup in a dairy pot with the intention to consume the soup with meat; it is only that if one somehow went ahead and cooked such soup anyway in a (totally clean) dairy pot that he may consume it with meat, according to the Shulchan Aruch.) 

3. According to some poskim (see Shach s.k. 4, Pischei Teshuva s.k. 2), a pareve food that is roasted on a spit which is also used to roast meat may not be eaten with dairy, even b’deieved. (Thus, according to this ruling, one could not roast pareve marshmallows on a totally clean meat spit and then consume the marshmallows with dairy.) 

4. The Rema (ibid.) rules that if a pareve sharp food (“davar charif”) is cooked in a totally clean dairy vessel (even if it is not ben yomo) and is mixed with meat (and vice versa), the entire mixture is non-kosher, due to the halachic stringencies of davar charif. (Thus, if hot peppers are cooked in a dairy pot and are then cooked with beef, the entire dish is non-kosher.) 

5. Even though the Rema rules that pareve food cooked in a totally clean dairy vessel may not be eaten with meat, and vice versa, this restriction applies only when the two foods are eaten together. However, the Rema rules (YD 89:3) that there is no problem of eating the two foods one after the other, without waiting or cleaning one’s mouth in between. (Thus, according to the Rema, although one is not allowed to add meat to pareve soup that was cooked in a totally clean dairy pot, one may first eat meat and then eat the soup, without meat in it.)

Foods which are cooked in a totally clean dairy or meat pot are referred to as ”Nosain Ta’am bar Nosain Ta'am (Secondary Transfer of Taste), abbreviated as "Nat bar Nat", signifying that the taste of the food originally cooked in the vessel is potentially passed on to the pareve food that was subsequently cooked in the vessel, such that any taste derived by the pareve food underwent two transfers: (1) a transfer of taste from the original food to the vessel, and (2) a transfer of taste from the vessel to the pareve food. Sephardim follow the Shulchan Aruch and Ashkenazim follow the Rema in the above Nat bar Nat scenarios.

Contemporary Consumer Products

When products bear a "D-E" kosher symbol, it typically means that the products have no dairy content but were manufactured on hot, clean dairy equipment and are Nat bar Nat. For Ashkenazim who consume chalav stam, or who only consume only chalav Yisrael but also consume products made on chalav stam equipment, the product can be consumed immediately after meat, but not with meat.

"D-E" hechsherim often appear on soy milk, sorbet and juice products, as these products are commonly manufactured in dairies and share hot equipment with milk. The D-E symbol indicates that the processing equipment was not kashered to pareve status prior to manufacturing the otherwise pareve product.

One critical application is that of D-E certified soy milk. Many people cook meat foods with soy milk, and they must be aware that according to Ashkenazic p'sak, soy milk with D-E certification may not be used in meat foods.

Aside from confusion regarding the implications of a D-E symbol, the OU is concerned about the risk that dairy equipment used to manufacture otherwise pareve products may not be totally clean of dairy residue. (For example, otherwise pareve snack chips and seasonings made on dairy equipment often have real dairy residue in them.) Hence, the OU has does not certify products with a D-E symbol.

Exercise Caution! It May Be Fully Dairy!

Consumers shouldn’t assume that dairy-certified products which seem to really be "D-E" but lack such designation are indeed inherently pareve and are only dairy in terms of their processing equipment. Ingredients with which the consumer may not be familiar are often dairy, and some products contain dairy sub-ingredients which are not required to be declared.

For example, I occasionally receive calls from consumers who think that certain beverages which contain caseinate (soluble milk protein) are inherently pareve and are labeled with an OUD only due to their being processed on dairy equipment. In truth, these beverages are completely dairy, but some consumers don’t know what caseinate is, and they assume that it is some type of pareve chemical. Similarly, some berry flavors contain milk subcomponents, which contribute a creamy mouthfeel to the finished product. A consumer who purchases raspberry sorbet with an OUD shouldn’t assume that since the ingredient panel omits mention of dairy that the product contains no dairy and may be eaten immediately after meat, for in reality, the product's berrry flavor may contain milk. Another example is dairy-certified nutritional supplements which would appear to not contain any dairy. In reality, these products often contain dairy cultures and are thus fully dairy. In short, the consumer should not make any Nat bar Nat assumptions about dairy-certified products and should treat such products as real dairy, absent information otherwise from the relevant kosher certifying agency.

The above concerns are even greater when it comes to baked goods and snack foods. Baking ovens can have serious dairy residue and are not necessarily cleaned between products, and potato chips, corn chips and other snack items are processed in tumblers, which may be shared with snack products coated with cheese powders and dairy seasonings. This equipment is very often not wet-cleaned between various products, and dairy powder residue can be present on the surface of potato or corn chips that would otherwise seem to be pareve. Blending equipment, in which seasonings that are added to mashed potato mixes and numerous other products are processed, is likewise often not cleaned well between dairy and pareve products. Hence, in order to safeguard the consumer from thinking that apparently pareve foods made on such equipment are not dairy, these products must bear a regular kosher-dairy symbol.

"Made on equipment/in a facility that processes milk..."

The above statement is commonly found on the packaging of numerous foods - including pareve-certified foods (!). Consumers are at times baffled how a pareve product can bear a statement that apparently declares it to be dairy.

The truth is that the aforementioned statement is an allergen declaration and has nothing to do with kashrus. For example, in the case of peanuts which may share ambient temperature equipment with dairy products (such as when the same packaging machinery used for milk-chocolate coated items is used for peanuts), and the packaging equipment is verified by the kashrus agency on an ongoing basis to be thoroughly free of dairy material before packaging peanuts, the peanuts may bear a pareve certification. The fact that there is dairy in the facility or on the equipment at times does not render the peanuts dairy from a kashrus perspective if indeed the dairy has no contact with the peanuts and the equipment does not operate with heat.

Consumers are always encouraged to contact the relevant kashrus agency when they seek to know the exact status of a product, be it to inquire whether a dairy-certified product is inherently dairy or is Nat bar Nat, or to understand why an apparently dairy product bears pareve certification. However, absent specific guidance from a reputable kashrus agency regarding a specific product, all bets are off - don't assume anything, and play it safe.


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