Wonder bread, that icon of American sandwich culture, is on the verge of becoming kosher in the Washington-Oregon area.
The certification process should be completed by mid-February, according to David Grashin, executive director of Va’ad HaRabanim of Greater Seattle. The Va’ad is supervising the koshering process at Interstate Brands Corp.‘s bakery in Lakewood, WA, where Wonder bread is produced for the Oregon and Washington market.
Grashin related how the Lakewood facility first contacted the Va’ad about four months ago: “I left some seeds with them — you know, things we needed to look into — and I didn’t hear from them for maybe six to eight weeks,” he said. “I didn’t realize the whole time they were working hard on it, putting together a list of ingredients; I mean, they have hundreds of ingredients and they need to come up with a list of every ingredient, a list of all the different koshering agencies that give certification to all those ingredients.
“It was a lot of work. In terms of number of ingredients, it’s probably the most complex factory we’ll give supervision to,” he added.
Interstate Brands produced kosher Wonder bread under Va’ad supervision at a Seattle plant from 1998 to 1999; that facility is no longer in operation. The Lakewood bakery, which is new, is expected to produce 20 to 30 different kosher breads. Dairy breads will be made with kosher ingredients but will not be supervised.
“Since bread is ‘the staple of life’ and is in theory used with every meal, [koshering agencies] do not want to have anything that would confuse the consumer,” Grashin stated. “We’ll announce it plain and simple: This is not under our supervision.”
“The main reason we don’t certify dairy breads is to prevent a person from making a mistake,” explained Rabbi Etzion Genauer, the Northwest region kashrut coordinator for the koshering agency Kof-K but who is supervising Interstate Brands’ certification on behalf of the Va’ad. “Suppose a store sells a white bread that has some milk powder or buttermilk in it: I don’t want some Jewish person to go there and buy the bread, forget that it has dairy, go home, and put a slab of salami on it—and have a salami sandwich on dairy bread.”
Asked about the difficulty of the certification process, Ron Dube, the Lakewood bakery’s operations manager, said, “The biggest thing was just getting the spreadsheets on the ingredients and making sure everything’s certified. But we’ve had all the pans re-glazed. We’ve had some whey products originally in our product that we’ve taken out and substituted. So that part of it has been the time-consuming part. But it hasn’t, I wouldn’t say, been difficult: It’s just been time-consuming.”
The glazing of pans and trays produces a smooth finish so the baked goods don’t adhere. It is a high-temperature process that, in some cases, qualifies as koshering for equipment.
While kashrut, or compliance with kosher dietary laws, is associated with observant Jews, foods made under kosher supervision are sought after by various groups with special dietary needs, such as Muslims, Buddhists, Seventh-Day Adventists, vegetarians and lactose-intolerant people.
“I’ve always been told that a kosher diet is very healthy for you, and that’s why I believe in it,” said Dube. “Growing up on the East Coast, we were always told that.”
Interstate Brands currently makes kosher bread at eight facilities, most of them located in the Midwest; the Lakewood plant will be the ninth, and the only one on the West Coast.
Before being promoted to his current post, Dube was production manager at the Philadelphia bakery, which he said has been making kosher Wonder for about five years.
As a supplier to the Washington State Department of Corrections, Interstate Brands will facilitate the procurement of bread for inmates who require kosher food, according to the department’s food program manager, Cheryl Johnson. When the Department of Corrections receives requests for a kosher food plan, Johnson said, “Our practice is to consult with [the Department of] Religious Services at the individual institutions who consult with these offenders. The Food Service Department is then notified of the request and makes every effort to provide kosher meals following the central menu guidelines.
“The provision of kosher bread by Interstate Brands is beneficial in that it fulfills a dietary requirement,” she concluded.