More than two thousand years ago, the rabbis prohibited eating certain foods cooked fully by non-Jews in order to limit socialization that might lead to intermarriage. This prohibition is known as bishul akum. Food that has a bishul akum status, meaning that it was fully cooked by a non-Jew, is no more kosher than a sandwich of cold roast beef and cheese: it is not kosher even though the ingredients used to prepare the food were initially kosher in and of themselves.
However, there are nine potential reasons why the OU can certify a given food even if it isn’t bishul Yisrael (Jewishly cooked). This document will summarize those reasons. The nine reasons are divided into two groups:
A. Five reasons why a food might be exempt from bishul akum regardless of how it is cooked.
B. Four reasons why the method or level of cooking typically done in a factory doesn’t demand bishul Yisrael. However, the food may require bishul Yisrael if it is cooked differently or when it is prepared by the consumer.
The food doesn’t require bishul Yisrael if:
- Edible raw:
Foods which are edible raw are excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum. Foods which people would eat raw but are always pasteurized for safety, are considered edible raw.
- Not served at shulchan melachim:
Foods which aren’t fit to be served at shulchan melachim are excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum.
- Taaruvot which is primarily permitted:
In many cases there is no prohibition of bishul akum on foods whose primary components aren’t subject to bishul akum (as above) even if the secondary components are.
Foods which are only served at shulchan melachim as an accompaniment to another food aren’t considered fit to be served at shulchan melachim and are excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum.
- Not a tavshil:
Foods whose bracha rishona is hamotzi (at all times or at least when one is koveah seudah on them) are considered bread (pat)and aren’t subject to the prohibition of bishul akum. (The OU certifies pat paltar as kosher.) Deep fried foods aren’t subject to this leniency.
No arrangement required by the OU (but food may otherwise be subject to bishul akum).
- Not cooked in plant:
There is no need for the OU to arrange for a food to be bishul Yisrael if it isn’t cooked (baked or fried) before it is sold.
- Smoked or salted:
Foods which were salted or cold-smoked (and otherwise not cooked, baked or fried) aren’t considered “cooked” as relates to bishul akum and there is no need for the OU to arrange that such foods be bishul Yisrael. Hot-smoked food is considered cooked and is subject to bishul akum.
- Steamed in a factory’s specialized equipment:
Foods cooked with direct steam and in a factory which uses equipment which is radically different than the type used in a home aren’t subject to the prohibition of bishul akum.
- Consumer finishes cooking:
There is no need for the OU to arrange for a food to be bishul yisroel if the (Jewish) consumer will finish or meaningfully add to a cooking process which was started by a non-Jew in the factory. L’chatchilah this should only be relied upon if the food isn’t k’ma’achal ben drusai (edible) when it leaves the plant.