Kosher fish fillets . . . or not

Everyone knows that the process by which our food arrives at the grocery store is incredibly complicated. A huge variety of fruits and vegetables are trans-seasonal. And that’s just for unprocessed food. Throw in processed food and there is an exponential increase in complexity.

Planet Money did an excellent series tracking of making and sourcing a T-shirt recently and I can only imagine that a can of baked beans might have an analogous backstory.

There’s no doubt that, for many considerations, locally sourced food is preferable. Living in Ithaca, we are lucky to have ready access to wonderful local produce. Yet we are also grateful for the privilege of being able to acquire many different types of food at the grocery store.

For example, if I had to slaughter an animal myself, I would be strictly vegetarian. I appreciate being able to go to Wegmans and purchase meat ( I realize that there is an inherent contradiction in this but it is one I’m comfortable with).

Same goes for fish. If the fish is filleted and cleaned, ready to cook, I am grateful that I can just get on with the process of cooking.

So it was that I was in the aisles of BJs where I saw they had big bags of very reasonably priced frozen fish fillets. The fish in question was flounder, an unquestionably kosher fish.


I used to go with my grandmother to the fish stalls in Leeds market which boasted an incredibly array of aqua species and I knew that it is perfectly permissible to buy fish from a place that also sells non-kosher seafood. However, there’s a catch. All the fish we bought in “those days” was very recognizable as to what species of fish it was.

Not so for our current day dilemma. In order to accurately know what we are purchasing when the fish is no longer readily identifiable we need to have confidence in the supplier.

Even if supplier is reputable, this is not a sufficient guarantee because the chain of custody for even the simplest foods has multiple entities that can span across the globe. Neither can the consumer rely on accuracy in food labeling, even when there is a legal mandate to do so. For a good example of why legislation doesn’t adequately protect the consumer, see the recent debacle of  beef products containing up to 60% horsemeat in the E.U., supposedly a bastion of food regulation.

The only way to rely that the chain of custody of the fish fillet being from the same fish that originally had its fins and scales is certification from an independent third party, aka a hechsher.

Unfortunately the flounder fillets from the Orca seafood company had no scales remaining on the pristine fillets, so were not recognizably from a kosher fish regardless of labeling, and the package did not have a rabbinical supervision symbol.

Bummer. On the off chance, I contacted the company. They were kind enough to reply and this was the message:

Orca letter

A bit disappointing. I thanked them and requested that they consider the market for the kosher consumer. Here is the URL to contact Orca Bay Seafoods if you would like to let the company know your thoughts.

Now I just have to figure out how to offload the pack of fish fillets sitting in the freezer (yes I did buy them foolishly optimistically hoping they would be OK to eat!).



4 thoughts on “Kosher fish fillets . . . or not

  1. So when I buy salmon at Wegman’s–fresh or packs of frozen–even though I’m 100% certain that it is salmon, it isn’t kosher?

    • My understanding is that as long as it has a tiny portion of the skin showing evidence of scales, then it is kosher. For example Wegmans right now has large frozen wild salmon fillets from Orca Bay with the skin still attached and this would be kosher. We need a halachic expert to weigh in on this.

    • By the way it was hard for me to say goodbye to those fish fillets I was so looking forward to eating, even to an appreciative graduate student! But I did note that the species name provided on the packet is Limanda aspera which is a species of fish whose common name is actually Yellowfin sole, not “flounder”. The good news is that this species of fish is listed by the Marine Conservation Society as sustainable and not currently overfished.

  2. Pingback: Post-modern Gefilte fish (or Gefilte fish in 30 mins) | קוֹל הַהוֹרִים‎

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