Some people erroneously think that kosher food means food that was blessed by a rabbi. In reality, kosher means “fit”—that is, foods that were prepared in accordance with the many laws in Judaism that cover every food category and every aspect of its preparation, and thus “fit” for consumption. Sometimes, a rabbi is required to supervise the food production to ensure that it was prepared in accordance with these laws.
Here is a brief overview of the laws of kosher:
• Certain animals, birds, fish, and insects (and their derivatives) may not be consumed.
• Animals and birds that may be consumed must be killed and prepared in a very specific manner.
• We do not eat milk and meat together.
It may sound like only a few laws, but within each of these are a host of details.
• Accordingly, many Jewish patients in the hospital will want to avoid pork and shellfish. If such dishes are brought to their bed, they will often refuse to eat it. Some might grow distraught.
• Many hospitals have kosher meal plans available upon request. However, sometimes a patient might neglect to request a kosher plan because he or she is overwhelmed or may not know that a kosher plan is available. On the other hand, since individual levels of practice are diverse, some Jewish patients might not opt for the plan. Our job is to ensure that the choice is made available to them.
The most important thing about our patients’ kosher food is to ask. Ask your patients about their kosher preferences and find out if they have any special requests concerning their food.
SERVING OBSERVANT PATIENTS
This section, which gets into more detail regarding kosher food in a hospital setting is geared for those hospitals that serve orthodox Jewish patients.
Some people erroneously think that when a patient is in the hospital, the requirements of the kosher diet are lifted. This is not the case. When it is a matter of life and death, and the patient needs to eat a
non-kosher ingredient to save his or her life, the laws of kosher are pushed aside to save a life; otherwise, the laws of kosher need to be followed. Accordingly, the following are some pointers that will be
relevant to Jews who observe a complete kosher diet:
• On occasion, patients might ask about the kosher status of the medications prescribed for them. Although some medications are exempt from the dietary rules, there are medications (such as sweetened medications taken orally) and occasions (such as during Passover) where the dietary rules are applicable. Feel free to contact us when these questions arise, and we will be happy to help.
• Families and friends of patients who observe a stricter kosher diet than the one offered by the hospital often bring food from home for the patient. It might become necessary to explain the limitations of the patient’s medical diet to ensure that the food they bring meets the patient’s medical requirements.
• During Passover, the dietary rules are drastically different because products with leavened dough (and legumes) are not permitted, and more generally, there are many (often, family-specific) extra stringencies associated with eating during this holiday. Some Jewish patients might ask for their meals to be brought from home. Again, it might become necessary to explain the patient’s medical limitations to ensure that the food delivered from their home meets with the patient’s medical requirements.
• With respect to the kosher food served in the hospital: Every food item on the tray—except raw and whole fruits and vegetables—should bear a kosher label. Some foods can seem perfectly kosher when we read the ingredients, but in fact, contain ingredients that impact the status of the food. This is why all foods should bear a kosher label.
• The food should remain in its sealed packaging until it reaches the patient’s bed. Once the meal has arrived in the room, the staff can offer to help patients remove the seal in the patient’s or the family’s presence.
• If food requires heating, it should be heated in a sealed (preferably the original) package.
• Dairy and meat are always kept separate. For example, we don’t add a milk carton to a tray with a meat entrée.