The Slurpees have taken over! Enough Slurpee drinks are sold in the United States each year to fill 12 Olympic-size swimming pools, and more than 40% of those are sold during June, July and August, according to the Slurpee Headquarters. The question is not, “Why do people drink Slurpees?” That has an easy answer: because they’re good. However, “Are kosher consumers drinking Slurpees?” does not have such an easy answer.
Traditionally, the cRc has provided a list of the Slurpee syrups that bear a reliable kosher certification. We have always left the decision of purchasing and drinking the Slurpees to the discretion of the consumers. Recently, however, Slurpees have been under intense kosher scrutiny. It has come to our attention that kosher consumers in the greater Chicago area are growing uncomfortable with the idea of unsupervised machinery. There is even a petition circulating in some schools to try to convince a local 7-Eleven franchise to obtain certification on the machine itself, as is done in the Detroit area. In response to this increasing discomfort, I am going to ask and try to answer four important Slurpee questions, and, in so doing, I hope to address some of the pressing concerns in our communities regarding the delightful icy beverage.
Is the Slurpee I’m drinking kosher?
A Slurpee is made from carbon dioxide, water and syrup. As of today, all Slurpee syrups are certified kosher and pareve, aside from the diet Pepsi syrup, which is certified kosher-dairy and Piña Colada, which is not certified kosher. (The other non-certified flavor of recent memory, Frozen Wonka Laffy Taffy, has been retired). This first question stems from an increasing anxiety that 7-Eleven franchises, independently owned and operated, are allowed to contract the use of generic-brand syrups for their Slurpees. Owners might want to do this in order to save a few dollars. Rest easy, kosher consumers—the franchises have a contract with corporate 7-Eleven: if an independently owned and operated franchise uses generic brand syrups, they must place a hand-written flavor sign on the machine. This alerts consumers and corporate representatives, who visit regularly, that the particular store is adhering to its contract with corporate 7-Eleven. If it is not in keeping with the contract, that franchise has much greater problems than kosher.
This, of course, is only a concern in franchised cities and states (like in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York, New Jersey, etc). The states with corporate-owned stores (like Texas, Utah, Colorado, etc) do not even have the option of the generic brand. John Ryckevic, Slurpee Category Manager in Texas, says they are working to eliminate generic brand flavors completely: “I’d be surprised if there were five places left still using the off-brand flavors.” 7-Eleven stores are allowed to rename the flavors (for example, Fanta Grape may be called, “Grape-A-Liscious”), but the signs will be professional, designed signs. Somewhere on it, it should even have the name brand. Consumers must look for these signs and be careful to notice that the name change is simply a name change, and that the kosher status has not changed at all.
Keeping abreast of the syrup flavors is important for kosher agencies and consumers alike. Just recently, I visited a local franchise. I was escorted to the back to confirm the flavors’ kosher status, and I noticed a suspicious ingredient on the label of a certified syrup. It took a few days to clarify that it was, indeed, kosher, but it did catch the kashrus agency by surprise. Also, let me share some insider information with you: Coming this fall, 7-Eleven will unveil a new Slurpee flavor, Starburst Orange Cream. It sounds dairy, but only time will tell. Keep a look-out.
Is there a problem with the Slurpee machines?
Operating with the knowledge that almost all known Slurpee syrups are kosher, it is still important to relay that the minute amount of dairy or non-kosher in the flavors would not change a machine’s status to dairy or non-kosher. Not only is the machine itself set at 28° Fahrenheit, it is highly unlikely that the Slurpees would sit in the machine for anything close to the 24 hour kosher deadline of when, at that point, flavors may be absorbed into the walls of the utensil holding it. Here’s why: the barrel of the machines holds 92 ounces of finished Slurpee product, and 7-Eleven’s top-selling Slurpee cup is 22 ounces, which means that approximately 4.5 large cups of Slurpee are held in the machines. Obviously, the Slurpees in the machines are replaced constantly. Consequently, the cRc can safely and confidently announce that there are no problems with the Slurpee machines.
Now, what if 7-Eleven puts a kosher pareve flavor in a machine that previously held a non-kosher or dairy flavor? What if leftover non-kosher or dairy syrup infiltrates my pareve flavor? While certainly not the common occurrence, it is a possibility because, generally, stores do not clean the machines between flavors. As a matter of fact, they claim that kids love getting mixed flavors. While this might happen on occasion, the many poskim that I spoke to on this matter all agreed, for various Halachik reasons, one does not have to worry about the small amount of leftover dairy or non-kosher flavor.
Bottom line, Rabbi—What should I do?
There are three possible options that the cRc recommends for enjoying your Slurpees and in turn, scoring brownie points with the kids:
1) Best Case Scenario –Ask your local franchise to seek certification on their Slurpee machines. This way, the kosher agency personally supervises all ingredients, and ensures that what’s in the back of the store is oh-so-thrillingly oozing out into the monster cups. They will also make certain that no non-kosher (and in some communities –no dairy) syrups will even enter the store.
2) Second Best Choice –Before purchasing the Slurpee, ask to see the actual flavor boxes that feed the machines. If they check out all right, you should feel 100% confident buying and slurping them.
3) Final Choice –Continue as status quo. You have good reason to slurp worry-free, since there is very little chance that there is anything in the machines other than what is portrayed on the genuine Coke or other brand-name signs. Remember, we have also established that the machines are Halachically acceptable.
Oh, by the way, how dairy is the Diet Pepsi Slurpee?
The challenge of the Slurpee is to get it to pour out at 28° Fahrenheit. In the regular (non-diet) Slurpees, the sugar lowers the freezing temperature, allowing it to give the Slurpee the right slushy consistency. Diet cola products, as we all know, lack sugar, so the flavor chemists must be creative.
Diet Pepsi syrup is sweetened with a combination of 3 sugar substitutes: sucralose (Splenda), tagatose (dairy) and erythirtol. Incidentally, the Diet Pepsi syrup was the first item in the United States in which tagatose was used successfully. Erythritol and tagatose are known as bulk sweeteners, and their primary role is to replace the sugar’s magical function of lowering the freezing point. Sucralose is the high intensity sweetener.
So, how dairy is the slurpee with the tagatose? Can you drink it after eating a roast beef sandwich? Well, it is important to Slurpee Corporate that tagatose does not affect diabetics or those who are lactose-intolerant. However, being safe for lactose-intolerance does not necessarily mean Halachically non-dairy.
A small lesson in digestion: When we digest dairy foods, our bodies use an enzyme, called lactase, to properly break down the lactose in our systems. Lactose is a disaccharide, a molecule containing two simple sugars called glucose and galactose. The human body, whose lactase supply is diminished as it ages, must use its lactase enzymes to split the lactose into its individual sugars before the individual sugars can be digested. In the case of tagatose, the manufacturer splits the lactose and processes the galactose into tagalos. Finally, then, tagatose does not require the breakdown system that lactose requires, but tagatose is still very much dairy.
Although the amount of tagatose in the whole Slurpee mixture is small enough to be considered botul (nullified) in Halacha, it is not that simple, and in this particular case it may not be botul. The very fact that it plays an important role in the Slurpee’s consistency may render it Halachically significant. Logic would tell us, that an ingredient can not be botul (meaning, as if it wasn’t there) if without it, the end product would either look or taste different. I have asked many poskim on this and, indeed, received opinions on both sides of the issue. But HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, our Av Beis Din, is of the opinion that tagalos does retain its dairy status, and therefore a dairy Slurpee should not be slurped by those who’ve just finished a roast beef sandwich.
So, the Slurpee situation slushes on. Surely, shuls and schools can rest assured—with summer sidling into Skokie, and the certification certain and strong, Shlomos and Shiras should slurp their ways through the long, sizzling season.
Rabbi Sholem Fishbane is cRc Kashruth Administrator
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