Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Deal With Trader Joe's Kosher Chocolate Chips

At some point yesterday Chocolate Chip-Gate began on Facebook. Word got out that Trader Joe's popular kosher chocolate chips were being re-designated as "kosher dairy" rather than "kosher pareve". Immediately, words like "tragic" and "devastating" were being used to describe the change. Facebook users were recounting their urgent visits to local Trader Joe's locations to grab up the pareve (non-dairy) chocolate chips from the shelf in a way that brought back memories of Coca-Cola fans in the 1980s stockpiling cans of Coke when New Coke came out.

Kosher consumers appreciate the pareve designation on chocolate chips because it allows for the substitution of non-dairy chocolate chips in baking for desserts following a meat meal, which is customary among most kosher-observant carnivores for Shabbat dinner.

As soon as the news that Trader Joe's would substitute the OK pareve hekhsher (kosher certification symbol) for a dairy one, discussion threads were launched on Facebook describing how favorite recipes for trail mix and chocolate chip challah would be an impossibility without the pareve chocolate chips from Trader Joe's. An online petition was started to urge Trader Joe's to reverse the decision.

There was also a lot of misinformation about the change. Dani Klein of the YeahThatsKosher blog posted a private Direct Message from Twitter that he received back from the OK Kosher Certification agency stating that the chocolate chips will not contain dairy, but will be labeled as such. There were also discussions that the new designation would actually be "DE" for dairy equipment, a relatively new kosher status that means the product is not dairy but the equipment could be used for dairy products. The Dairy Equipment designation means that food products with that status cannot be eaten with a meat meal, but can be eaten following that meal.

The news that it would be a dairy equipment hekhsher and not a bona fide dairy label resulted in several discussions on Facebook about that designation, how food labeled with the DE should be treated, and what the ramifications of a DE label are for dairy allergic individuals who rely on a pareve hekhsher for health reasons. Were people reacting too quickly? Was Trader Joe's even changing the production process of the chocolate chips?

Today, Dani Klein actually contacted the OK Kosher Certification Agency today and got to the bottom of this story. He was told that the chocolate chip product itself is not dairy, but the product is bagged at the end of the assembly line and neither Trader Joe's or the OK Kosher Certification Agency can guarantee that dairy chocolate chips don't also mix into the bag. This means that a bag of Trader Joe's pareve chocolate chips may or may not have some dairy chips mixed into a bag. That is why the OK is taking the position that these bags of chocolate chips should bear the OK-D certification as if they were dairy. Further, Klein was told by OK officials that the response he received via Twitter was an error and should have been redacted.

So, the bottom line is that the chocolate chips probably should have been labeled as "dairy" all along because they couldn't guarantee no dairy chips were mixed in by accident (although if it's less than 1/60th of the total volume of the bag it would still be pareve based on the principle of batel b'shishim).

There are other pareve chocolate chips available on the market, but Chocolate Chip-Gate demonstrates just how much Trader Joe's fans have come to rely on the market's specialty products.

While I am involved in the kosher certification industry through Kosher Michigan, this blog does not seek to set forth any kosher guidelines. Individuals should consult with their local rabbinic authority as to how they will treat Trader Joe's kosher chocolate chips in the future.


Anonymous said...

That s-cks.

Pretty slack kosher standards if you are relying on no more than one out of every sixty chips "mixed in with the bag" to be dairy.

Suppose you ate a handful (like 20) and the three chocolate chips out of 180 in the bag ended up in your hand.

Kosher or treif?

Another good reason to be vegan and foreswear meat products entirely!

Anonymous said...

Supposedly the bagging process was recently changed and that's causing the dairy designation. So the parve chocolate chips were really parve all along.

Anonymous said...

Trader Joes has made it to Frum Satire - Rabbi Jason - you're mentioned in a comment. That's a lot of Z'chut!

Amber Pasternak said...

While I understand the inconvenience of people not being able to use a favorite product in the manner they were accustomed, this "chip-gate" has caused a lot of eye rolling in our house. The Pasternaks suggest those who are currently inconvenienced:

1. Find other chips--Trader Joes can't be the only game in town.

2. Shake things up a bit and make different desserts.

Lance Cohen said...

Hi Rabbi Miller!

The Great Chocolate Chip Panic of 2012! It may be much worse than we thought!

Trader Joe's May 21, 2012: "These changes (going from a "wet" to a "dry" cleaning regimen) triggered the need for an FDA regulated, allergen statement, and this in turn brought about a change in the Kosher certification for our item--going from 'Kosher Pareve' to Kosher Dairy.'"

"an FDA regulated, allergen statement" NO DATE ATTACHED TO THE "STATEMENT."

FDA FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- Chicago, IL -- October 10, 2008 Barry Callebaut USA LLC is conducting a voluntary recall on its product sold by Kroger Stores under the brand "Kroger Value Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips", 12 oz., UPC Code is 1111086603 and "sell by" date May 30, 2010, as the product may contain undeclared milk protein. The "sell by" date is found printed in black on the end of the bag. People with allergies or severe sensitivity to milk protein may be at risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product.

October 10, 2008!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FDA FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - January 12, 2011 - Barry Callebaut USA LLC is conducting a voluntary recall on its product sold by Kroger Stores under the brand "Kroger Value Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips, 12 oz., UPC Code is 1111086603 as the product may contain undeclared milk protein.

January 12, 2011!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Odd coincidence, isn't it? "an FDA regulated, allergen statement"

Hypothetically speaking, what did the FDA, OK, Barry Callebaut, and Trader Joe's know and when did they know it?

BTW OK is no longer arguing Dairy Equipment; they are arguing milk and pareve chips can be mixed by the manufacturer. New chips will be D not DE.

Doesn't Whole Foods have an equivalent pareve chocolate chip? ;-)

Lance Cohen, Ph.D.
Hewlett, New York

Leah Weiss Caruso said...

Trader Joe's tastes the best - it's real chocolate, and no wacky parve aftertaste. I have not looked at Whole Foods but I cannot fathom what that would cost :D I have not found a parve brand that even comes close to the quality and taste of Trader Joe's. The allergen issue is also a factor - even if you hold by 1/60th being ok following a meat meal, anyone with a true dairy allergy (not lactose intolerant, a true milk allergy can be life-threatening) really cannot take a chance.