Food allergies and laws of kashrut

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer

As a lactose-intolerant adult, I have grown accustomed to life without cheese. Having never been a huge fan except for the gooey stuff atop a deep-dish pizza, this is not much of a problem for my taste buds. I will, however, admit to craving — and missing — an occasional Dairy Queen Blizzard; why do those commercials have to be so darned tempting? 

One challenge which the many individuals with allergies regularly face is “truth in labeling”. A product may label itself as “dairy free”; however, a careful inspection of the ingredients list might reveal the inclusion of chemicals such as sodium caseinate, which is a milk-derived protein. Caseinate is also frequently used in the food industry as a natural flavoring enhancer. While I have learned through the years to deal with uncomfortable stomach situations that accompany accidental exposure to lactose, such effects can be magnified for a young child.

Families who observe strict kashrut laws often struggle to juxtapose their religious concerns with a family member’s potentially life-threatening allergies.  Being familiar with kosher labeling enables one to easily identify the kosher symbol with “dairy” written next to it and simply avoid this product. However, kosher labels are not responsible for considering such issues as cross-contamination during production. Therefore, it is indeedpossible that there are traces of milk in a product even though it is not labeled as “dairy.” Vigilant parents know never to assume that a kosher symbol listing “meat” will be 100 percent free of dairy. Closely reading the ingredient list, or even contacting the food manufacturer if any doubt remains, is the best way to ensure safe consumption.  

Food has always been a major component of Jewish holidays and celebrations, and Passover is perhaps the quintessential example of this. In addition to traditional kashrut laws, there are extra dietary restrictions observed during this 8-day springtime holiday. In the absence of “chametz” (any food that contains a leavening agent, typically wheat products), many Passover recipes prominently feature nuts and eggs, two of the more common food allergies in both adults and children. Life can quickly become significantly more restrictive and challenging when trying to create healthy meals for young children. Observant parents are faced with compromising either the kosher factor or the kosher-for-Passover factor…or their children’s nutritional intake, none of which are truly viable options. 

I have a close friend who is highly allergic to fish. Finding an “OUF” symbol on a kosher food label indicates that the product does in fact contain fish ingredients. However, the inverse is not necessarily true; a product labeled “OU” does not guarantee that it is completely free of fish. As long as the product contains less than 1/60th of a fish derivative, it may be labeled as “OU”. Is that safe enough for an individual with a severe allergy? Would you want to be the parent who finds out the hard way?

There is one piece of good news for shellfish allergy sufferers: Under no circumstances may any food item labeled “kosher” ever contain even a trace of shellfish. My close friend happens not to be Jewish, but I just might consider telling her to think about becoming kosher…just for the health of it.

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.


Kosher Foods and Milk Allergies