Whipped topping maker Hanan Products runs a kosher manufacturing facility all year long, so the company is used to the rigorous standards at its plant in Brooklyn, New York — and the nearly constant presence of rabbis to make sure that everything runs properly.
Those rabbis are observing either Hanan's processes for its own branded products, or they represent private-label brands made there, according to Chief Operating Officer Ryan Hanan. He estimated there's a rabbi in the plant about 90% of the time.
But when it’s time to make kosher for Passover certified products, there’s much more that needs to be done to make the plant ready through a process called kosherizing.
Products that are kosher follow Jewish dietary laws that were set down in the Bible. Kosher has been said to be the most popular CPG product certification, and different certification groups inspect facilities, ingredients and processes to make sure that products comply with these dietary laws.
During the eight days of Passover, there is a much stricter set of dietary laws that must be followed. Any grains that could be fermented are prohibited, and the only bread-like product that may be eaten is the flatbread matzo. Corn, beans and rice have generally been included in this grains prohibition, meaning that any ingredient made from these substances is prohibited during Passover.
During the kosherization process, Hanan Products first needs to clear its factory of ingredients that are not kosher for Passover. The primary offender is corn — Hanan said the company uses high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient in some of its products — but there are some other ingredients that don’t meet the standards. Palm kernel oil, used in some products, also must be cleared out of all of the tanks and lines to ensure that everything that goes into finished products meets kosher for Passover standards.
The rabbis often ask Hanan Products to do specific things in the plant kosherization, usually modifying the factory's pastuerization process. While the company always pasteurizes its ingredients at a temperature hotter than 165 degrees, Hanan said that sometimes the rabbis request hotter temperatures, or holding them at that temperature for longer. The rabbis will also sometimes ask the company to sanitize all of the containers used for measuring and mixing ingredients to very exacting standards.
During this period, when manufacturing is done for the day, the rabbis — some of whom are in the plant at all times — seal the lines in tape with rabbinical symbols and fill out very specific forms, Hanan said.
If tapes or seals are broken, Hanan said, the rabbis will know that the lines could have been cross-contaminated.
“They won't let us use it again, and then we would be required to go through that same kosherization again,” he said.
Hanan Products, which regularly manufactures certified kosher products throughout the year, is used to having to ensure that ingredients are kosher throughout the supply chain. Hanan said the palm kernel oil supplier also has on-site rabbis who ensure kosher for Passover standards are followed in its facility.
“They supervise the loading of the cargo tanks, the trucks that deliver the oil to us,” Hanan said. “And then our rabbis, who are here who are supervising our production, they [...] supervise the cleaning of our tanks and then the unloading of the kosher for Passover oil into the tanks. They make sure our tanks are clean and up to their standards, as well.”
Hanan Products is one of very few whipped topping companies that dedicates itself to making kosher for Passover products. Other manufacturers of whipped toppings also make products that are definitely not kosher for Passover, like French toast sticks or frozen shrimp, and so would need to stop or modify these lines for a period of time to serve the market.
“Everybody knows it's definitely a pain in order to do it. But the benefits are there. I can't deny that,” Hanan said.
This year, Hanan Products made about 250,000 pounds of kosher for Passover items. It's too early to speculate on sales figures, Hanan said, but the company sees sales growth in the single digits in this line every year.
Once the kosher for Passover manufacturing period is over, Hanan said the company basically rips off the special rabbinical sealed tape and goes back to business as usual. If anything, kosher for Passover manufacturing requires more stringent cleaning and pasteurizing, so there’s nothing that it needs to do in the factory to return to normal. Hanan said it’s kind of strange to just shift back — because there's not that much of a difference from business as usual — though the company usually has to start working hard immediately to catch up to production demand for Valentine’s Day.
Because Hanan Products does a lot of manufacturing for wholesale and bakeries, Hanan said that he doesn’t always see the company’s products on shelves. But around this time of year, he can be sure that the kosher for Passover whipped toppings at the company’s customers came from Hanan Products.
“I walk into any supermarket, and I can go in the frozen section and look at the products that we made. And it's really the only time of year that we can do it,” he said.