Looking in her cupboard last week, Shulamis Labkowski got a morsel of unwelcome news.
The mother of three from Oakland, Calif., inspected three bags of Trader Joe's semisweet chocolate chips, a staple in her kosher kitchen. They were alike in all ways but one: Two of them had a small D on the label, meaning they were classified as dairy under Jewish dietary laws.
The changed label was tough to swallow. Kosher law forbids mixing meat and dairy at any time, but Trader Joe's chips used to be deemed "pareve," meaning they could be eaten with either meat or dairy meals. An avid baker, Mrs. Labkowski tore through five to seven bags a week to make treats without worrying about running afoul of the rules.
"If I couldn't get the pareve, I'd have to resort to making something without chocolate. It limits your choices a lot,'' said Mrs. Labkowski, 26 years old and the wife of a rabbi.
So, she rushed to her local Trader Joe's and bought 40 12-ounce bags of the pareve chips still in stock at $2.29 apiece.
As message boards and blogs burned with news of the switch last week, customers across the U.S. began hoarding the last bags of pareve chocolate chips. Now, empty shelves are all that is left at many Trader Joe's outposts.
In a store in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, one woman bought 90 bags of chips, according to an employee, who declined to give his name. He said the store had been out of chips for a couple of days.
The ingredients in the chips haven't changed, a Trader Joe's spokeswoman said in a statement. She said the chips are still made on equipment dedicated to nondairy chocolate but that the cleaning process for the "bagging line" was different.
The change prompted the Food and Drug Administration to require that the chips carry a warning for milk allergies. That, in turn, triggered a review of the product's kosher status, the Trader Joe's spokeswoman said.
OK Kosher Certification, the company whose K-in-a-circle insignia adorns the Trader Joe's confections, decided where the chips fell. The company claims to certify about 500,000 consumer products from food giants like ConAgra, Tropicana and Miller Brewing.
Under OK's guidelines for going kosher, manufacturers undertake a rigorous process, including plant visits with a rabbinical coordinator who has expertise in the product, regular monitoring and an annual inspection.continue reading...