To serve the Jewish community, food shippers must ensure their processes comply with kosher laws, and the use of tank containers for shipping approved bulk liquid products is part of that effort.
Kosher certification agencies require strict tank container cleaning oversight backed by detailed documentation. Wash facilities are regularly inspected by rabbinic field representatives for further verification.
'We are definitely concerned about cleanliness, but we also must know the recent history of the ISO container to determine whether or not it must be kosherized,' said Gavriel Price, a rabbinic coordinator with the Orthodox Union in New York.
The OU is the world's largest kosher certification agency, certifying more than 500,000 products produced in more than 6,000 plants in 80 countries. The agency's 600 rabbinic field representatives are proficient in modern food production techniques and chemical and biological processes, and how Jewish laws apply to them.
'They want traceability of the equipment and our operating system allows for that,' said Karen Whitaker, vice president of operations of Nashville, Tenn.-based Agmark Foods, a tank container operator that recently received the OU's approval to transport kosher food products. 'We constantly keep an update of where our tanks have been, where they are, and where they're going in our system.'
The company's system also allows the OU to conduct random audits of tank containers that have been 'kosherized.'
The OU wants to build closer relationships with tank container operators, such as Agmark. 'We believe they are well organized in monitoring the movements of their tanks,' Price said.
Whitaker said compliance with kosher requirements is 'challenging,' and the program covers a percentage of Agmark's overall stainless steel tank container fleet. 'We couldn't kosherize our entire fleet because we do carry non-kosher items as well,' she said.
Agmark provides logistics and transportation services to many large beverage companies.
Some tank container operators market that their fleets are fully kosherized by other certification agencies. However, Whitaker said to do this quickly gets very expensive, because it costs an additional $250 to have a rabbinic field representative observe a tank's washing before each kosher food shipment.
When kosherized tank containers are shipped overseas, logistics and compliance requirements are further compounded and may add significant costs to an equipment provider's operations due to the need to establish certified washing stations abroad and finding kosher backhaul cargoes so the containers don't have to be returned empty, Whitaker said.
Price said the OU understands these challenges and makes a considerable effort to accommodate kosher transport without imposing burdens on shippers. 'There are plenty of kosher commodities available for shipment,' he said.