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Eating at Trade Shows

Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc

October 2008

 

The hundreds or thousands of booths at a typical trade show are all vying for the attention of the people “walking the floor”, and one sure-fired method of attracting visitors is to offer them something to eat or drink.  This is common at all trade shows, but it is even more prevalent at food shows, where the gastronomic enticement is likely to be the specific item being displayed by the vendor.  A kosher consumer attending a trade show will naturally be unable to eat at most of the booths but will be challenged when he approaches a booth which appears to be serving kosher food.  Such a booth may sport a familiar name or have a placard indicating that the vendor is selling kosher-certified items, and at first glance it may appear that the prayers of the weary floor-walker have been answered.  However, further investigation indicates that there may be reason to be somewhat cautious as outlined in the following chart: 


Is the sample…

Or…

…made by the company manning the booth

…is it a store-bought item which they give out to entice you to stop by?
…did they maybe run out of their cookies, or candies and have to buy some more from the competitor?

…a certified item

…are only some of this company’s products kosher?
…is it being served with dressing, dips or other accompaniments which are not certified?

…unchanged from the certified version

…did they cook or heat it up, or add oil and spices before putting it out?

Most people are sensitive to these concerns and are careful in choosing what they do or do not eat at trade shows. 

The concerns outlined above take on a special complexity at a food show geared towards the kosher market, such as Kosherfest.  The focus of the show is, of course, kosher food, and this leads many people to believe that everything at the show is in fact kosher.  This belief is enforced by the many booths which have signage from their respective hashgachos indicating their certification.  In truth, this signage is standard in the industry for alerting the public that this company produces certified items, but not that there is any hashgachah on this particular booth at this specific show.

As a kashrus agency, we are particularly sensitive to issue and are most distressed when we are witness to unassuming attendees snacking on potentially problematic samples.  A few examples from a recent kosher food show that the cRc attended will attest to this concern:

  • The booth next to ours was giving out fried hour-d’oeuvres.  The package bore the logo of a reputable hashgachah, but the certification obviously did not cover the frying pan, oil and utensils being used by the 3 non-Jews manning the booth!  Hundreds of frum people ate those hour-d’oeuvres, and only one in a hundred bothered to ask us if we knew whether they were actually kosher. [In fact, at the beginning of the show, a cRc representative asked permission to verify that the machinery was new and the oil was kosher (and even lit the fire under the burners)].
  • Across the aisle from us, a non-Jewish employee of a heimishe bakery was distributing cut-up danishes, and most people had no way of knowing that their stock was refilled every few hours by a Jewish man.  [In many cases, one may rely on the company’s professional pride (אומן לא מרע נפשיה ) to not give out products manufactured by others at their booth, and attendees should consult with their Rabbis on this issue before the show].
  • A non-Jewish woman was pouring samples of kosher-certified, non-mevushal wine. 
  • I noticed a woman who was clearly quite observant ask the equally-obviously non-Jewish attendant at a booth “are you kosher?”, and then take a bite as soon as he answered in the affirmative.
  • The show features products from around the world, some of which bear certifications that the American public is unfamiliar with and are in fact not reputable.
  • A booth displayed a placard identifying their reputable certifying agency, and I watched the head of a Va’ad HaKashrus start to eat a sample from the booth…until he realized that half of the company’s products are certified by another agency with a much lower standard of kashrus.

It seems that criteria for eating at a trade show should be very straightforward – only accept the product if the person has halachic ne’emanus or the food is coming out of a closed package bearing a hashgachah.

In addition to the aforementioned kashrus issues, it is always worth remembering that a trade show may be one of the few times that certain non-Jews ever deal with a frum Jew in person.  Thus, the way we conduct ourselves while eating and interacting, how well we follow the show rules, how we respond to their offers, and even how we react when hearing that their Hechsher is below par, all carry the added potential for Kiddush Hashem.

 

 

HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Shlit"a
Rosh Beth Din

HaRav Yona Reiss, Shlit"a
Av Beth Din

 

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane
Kashruth Administrator

Rabbi Levi Mostofsky
Executive Director

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