Railroad enlists Rabbi’s help in removing Kosher salad oil from tank car

MINNEAPOLIS – For Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, a request by Canadian Pacific Railway to help recover kosher canola salad oil this week from a derailed tank car is just another day at the office.

And while not part of Randy Hansen’s usual duties as a CPR damage prevention and claim service specialist in Minneapolis, this isn’t the first time he has had to request the services of a rabbi to help recover a kosher product involved in a derailment.

In 1998, Hansen summoned a rabbi from Fargo, N.D., to help transfer another load of kosher canola oil from a derailed tank car in Thief River Falls in northwestern Minnesota. That rabbi has since moved away, so Hansen this time turned to Rabbi Zeilingold, leader of Adath Israel Synagogue in St. Paul.

Rabbi Zeilingold has assigned Rabbi Yosef Grossbaum, one of  three other rabbis at United Mehadrin Kosher, a kosher-certifying organization, to travel on Thursday to Thief River Falls to assist in the transfer of more than 185,000 pounds of salad oil-grade canola.

The rabbi’s involvement in the transfer process is often misunderstood, said Brenda Haist, transportation specialist for the shipper, CanAmera Foods of Oakville, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto.

“He’s not going to get on top of the car with a tent and chant,” Haist said. Instead, she said the rabbi’s involvement is hands-on.

Rabbi Grossbaum will have to certify as kosher a food-grade pump and hoses before they are used to transfer CanAmera Foods’ canola oil from the derailed kosher tank car into another kosher tank car. The canola oil will be returned to CanAmera’s kosher plant in Altona, Manitoba, for re-processing in accordance with the company’s policies to ensure the quality of its food-grade products.

The kosher-certification process is required to render food ritually fit according to Jewish law.

When CPR’s Randy Hansen was involved with recovery of kosher canola oil from another derailed car in 1998, a rabbi instructed a railroad contractor in how to prepare a food-grade pump and hoses for the transfer.

The rabbi used tongs to pick up a piece of ballast from the railroad tracks, held it over a flame to sterilize it and dropped the large rock into a 55-gallon drum of boiling water, causing the water to flow over the rim to sterilize it, Hansen said. The rabbi then poured the hot water into the pump and pumped it through the hoses before attaching the hoses to two tank cars for the transfer.

In the latest case, the canola oil will have to be heated for several hours in the tank car before the transfer can be started around 5 p.m. Thursday. Even though the tank car has two insulated jackets, the oil will have turned to gel after sitting for nearly three weeks in subzero weather. Steam will be piped to coils between the inner and outer insulated jackets, heating the coils to warm the canola, Hansen said.

When this derailment occurred Feb. 8 at Karlstad, Hansen knew right away to contact fellow damage prevention and claim services specialist Ron Van Deusen, who was at the scene about 30 miles northwest of Thief River Falls.

“I called it to my partner’s attention that day that this might be kosher oil, so we’ve got to watch it,” said Hansen, whose job sometimes involves taking unusual steps to recover derailed loads for the railroad’s customers.

Canola oil is frequently being processed these days as a kosher product for ease of doing business with all customers.

Indeed, the demand for kosher food has grown, said Rabbi Zeilingold, chief administrator of United Mehadrin Kosher, which works with about 150 food companies. Mehadrin (pronounced Muh-HAH’-drin) means best or highest level, and UMK follows the highest rules for kosher certification, making its certification universally accepted by all Jewish groups. Rabbi Zeilingold oversees three rabbis who work full time certifying everything from food-processing plants to barges to tanker trucks and equipment involved in food handling.

“Doing the kosherizing takes us to places far away,” Rabbi Zeilingold said. The rabbis travel to Europe several times a year and have gone even to Japan to certify food-processing plants as kosher.

“They’ll pretty much consider that an everyday assignment to go to Thief River Falls,” said Rabbi Zeilingold, whose most exotic assignment ever was going to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to certify an imitation lobster product made from pollack.

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