One of the most serious concerns in Kashrus is Basar b’Chalav, mixing meat and milk. In fact, Chazal were so concerned regarding this risk that they enacted numerous precautions to prevent the slightest possibility of even a cold mixture occurring inadvertently.
The Gemara Pesachim 30a describes one of these Rabbinic prohibitions as precluding the baking of Milchig or Fleishig bread. Since bread is the primary dietary staple, and is frequently consumed at both meat and dairy meals, its existence in a partisan form would incur significant risk. Chazal assessed that there exists a substantial likelihood that confusion would result, and it is nearly inevitable that these breads would occasionally be consumed with the opposing team.
However, they did take into consideration that certain circumstances could preclude this risk, and when there never existed any significant concern that errors would occur they permitted it under very specific guidelines. The details of these Halachos are brought in Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah Siman 97.
English Muffins are clearly a bread product and their Beracha is unquestionably HaMotzi. Presumably, they should be included in the injunction forbidding Milchig bread. Nevertheless, it is readily apparent to anyone perusing the label that a resolution is required. While they carry the endorsement of one of the world’s premier Hashgachos which is under the guidance of Gedolei HaPoskim and has generally impeccable credentials; they are designated as OU-D. How does the OU permit and certify dairy bread?
The designation on the label as dairy is insufficient protection because it postdates the baking, and it is clear from the Kreisi u’Pleisi, Chavos Da’as and other Poskim that this is too late. Furthermore, this warning is far from being safe. The muffins typically come in packs of 6 or 8, and it is eminently conceivable that one would tear open the packaging to eat a single muffin, returning the remainder in an unmarked Ziploc bag. These remaining muffins would have absolutely no indicating signs that they cannot be consumed indiscriminately.
The initial response I received was that English Muffins are distinct and unusual in their shape, texture and taste (so much so in fact, that our English brethren have never even heard of them).
The Gemara, according to one interpretation of the words k’Ein Tura, provides that one of the acceptable exceptions to this prohibition is a loaf of distinct appearance. Since no one will confuse it with typical bread, there is little concern that it would mistakenly be consumed with the opposite group.
However, I felt that this justification was inadequate.
First of all, a simple search on the OU’s website returned 35 results for “English Muffins” produced by various brands. Only the 19 varieties produced by Entenmanns’s under the “Thomas” label are designated as dairy, while the remaining 16 products are Pareve. So, it seems difficult to suggest that the admittedly unique form of an English Muffin serves as a conclusive indication of its dairy status.
Secondly, the Pischei Teshuva 97:3 cites the Maharit as writing that a Siman only helps in one’s own house where the family members are certainly aware of its import, but not for a retail product where the customer may not grasp the significance of the Siman. This, it seems to me, should clearly apply to Thomas’ English Muffins.
Furthermore, the Beis Yosef in Siman 97 quotes the Rashba as saying that “if one changed the appearance of the bread it is permitted, because one who sees it will know that its appearance was only changed to make a noticeable difference (Heker) and will ask and be told”. It seems to me that the unique shape and appearance of a Thomas’ English Muffin would not meet the criteria of the Rashba; as a customer would not see it as an indication of the muffin’s dairy status, but rather of the uniqueness of an “English Muffin”.
In subsequent correspondence, an attempted rationalization was suggested that each muffin is small enough to consume in a single sitting.
The alternative explanation of the words k’Ein Tura does grant an exception to a small quantity of bread, as it is presumed that one will not forget its status so quickly. If the entire batch of dough will be finished in a very short time frame, it is unlikely that any confusion will result, and it is permitted to make and eat Milchig bread.
Nevertheless, this too is insufficient. The leniency provided to a diminutive amount is dependent upon the size of the dough mixed, which in a commercial facility is inevitably immense. That it is later divided into small servings is inconsequential, as it is already forbidden, as per the Chavos Da’as mentioned above.
Furthermore, only the single muffin is consumed instantly, while the other thousands could sit in various homes and establishments for weeks. This certainly does not qualify for the dispensation of k’Ein Tura.
After numerous communications back and forth and serious deliberations on their part, I finally received a conclusive and satisfactory reply. Surprise, surprise; Thomas’ English Muffins are not really Milchig at all. While they d contain dairy ingredients, they constitute less than 1/60th of the total mixture and are Batel. While the OU as a matter of policy will not rely on Bitul in an intentional ingredient to designate the product as Pareve, there would in fact be no Issur committed if one were to inadvertently consume it with meat, which was the entire underlying concern that precipitated the original Gezeira.
So in conclusion, Thomas’ English Muffins are indeed Kosher and permitted to eat, not addressing for the moment the issue of Chalav Stam. There also remains the question of whether the prohibition of intentionally creating Bitul is relevant, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
At a later point, I hope to address the issue of dairy crackers.