Procedures Used in Cleaning and Checking Vegetables and Fruits
When checking vegetables and fruits with a light box, the item to be checked is placed close to or on the light box. The light box is especially useful in checking for insects which are of the same color as the vegetable or fruit, or for insects which are within the thickness of the vegetable or fruit, and not on its surface. Though insects in such locations are difficult to detect normally, they do become visible when they are placed over the light box. In such cases, the presence of the insect shows up as a dark spot upon the vegetable or fruit.
A light box may be purchased at hardware stores that cater to observant Jews or at photography or art supply stores. One may also check vegetables and fruits in natural light, by holding them up to the window. One should not, however, hold them up to the sun, since the brightness of the sun makes checking difficult.
Straining helps in cases of vegetables which are difficult to check―if one feels it is sufficient to have the taste of the vegetables in the food, without the actual leaves of the vegetable being present.
Straining a vegetable does not permit the vegetable to be eaten without being checked. It does, however, allow the taste of the vegetable to come into the food.
Follow this procedure:
1. Spray a stream of water on each side of each leaf of the vegetable.
2. Cook the vegetable, alone, in water.
3. Strain the water in a pouch, and use only what comes out of the pouch, not what remains in.
Alternately, one may cook the vegetable while it is in the pouch, together with whatever food it is to be cooked with.
As noted above, in many cases, if there are over sixty parts of kosher to one part unkosher―the food is permissible. This, however, does not apply to an insect, because the insect is a biryah. (A biryah is something which is or had been alive; and something that is whole.)
Even if there are more than sixty parts of food to one part insect―the food may not be eaten.
What if the insect is not whole? What if it is ground? Would, then, the food substance which contains the insect―be permissible?
Yes, it would be.
However, the grinding may not be done with the intent to nullify the insects. In other words, one cannot purposely grind the food with the intent to make the food kosher to eat. This is prohibited, under the rule, en mevatelin issur lechatehillah―it is prohibited to purposely nullify something that is prohibited. This would be similar to intentionally adding one part milk to sixty one parts of meat. One may not do this intentionally.
If, however, a vegetable was purchased having been already ground, and the firm that marketed it did not grind it for the purpose of nullifying the insects that are upon it―the food may be purchased and eaten21. This is the status of many products, such as jellies (as long as they do not have chunks of the fruit intact) and fresh spices.
Grinding may play a role in another scenario as well. If a substance is in the category of “sometimes infested,” it may not be eaten without being checked or cleaned. If, however, one does a light check and finds no infestation, and then, as a precaution, grinds the item―it may be eaten 22.
In any substance that is frequently infested or even sometimes infested, checking a sampling of the item―even checking most of it―is not good enough.
We have mentioned that, even a substance that is sometimes infested (mee-oot hamasui)―must be checked. Consequently, one could check, let us say, ninety per cent of the item and not find a bug. Still, the other ten per cent can be infested. So, the partial check―even if it is actually a check of ninety per cent of the item―is not enough23.
If, however, the item is normally not infested, or if it is rarely infested, checking a sample does help(in a case in which one fears that in this instance there might be infestation)24.
By the same token, if a substance is normally infested, but is now grown with special precautions to prevent infestation, checking a sampling of the item does help―since the item is considered to be like an item that is not normally infested.
From a case of lettuce (which is generally 24 heads), take three heads. Discard the outer leaves of each head. (Reason: The outer leaves are the most infested, and removing the outer leaves reduces the probability of infestation in the head of lettuce.)
Check all the remaining leaves of each head.
If even one bug is found in the three heads, all leaves of all remaining heads must be checked.
If, on the other hand, no infestation is found in the first three heads, all of the remaining heads of lettuce may be eaten without checking25.
This method is difficult to justify, and is in fact rejected by most kashruth organizations. Once a substance is in the category of sometimes infested (Hebrew: mee-oot hammasui), it may not be eaten until it is properly checked. Checking three heads and finding them to be clean―does not alter the halachic status of the item.
Perhaps a variation of this method is more sound. As follows…
Method Two 26
1. Soak all of the individual leaves of all the heads of lettuce, in vegetable wash or some other soapy solution.
2. Agitate each leaf in the water.
3. Remove the leaves from the water, and check the water for infestation.
If there are signs of infestation in the water―empty the water and repeat the process. Do this as many times as necessary―until no infestation is seen in the water.
Then, proceed to the hazakah check. Check three heads of the lettuce. If no infestation is found, the rest of the lettuce can be used without checking.
If infestation is found—all the lettuce must be checked26.
Method two has an advantage over method one: We have changed the status of the lettuce by soaking it. If we had found infestation―we would have continued to soak the lettuce until the infestation was no longer there. Consequently, checking three heads in addition to this makes us reasonably certain that there is no infestation in the lettuce.
May one check produce for infestation―on Shabbat and holidays? Must we fear that such checking comes under the category of borrer, orselecting, and is prohibited on Shabbat?
Answer: As long as the insect is relatively large and easily distinguishable―it may be removed28.
This is comparable to removing a feather from a garment. It is permitted, since the feather is distinguishable from the garment and stands apart from it. The case of a relatively large insect is the same.
As a precaution, however, one should take some of the food substance away together with the insect. This would not be considered as removing bad, which is prohibited, but, rather, as removing good and bad from good–which is permitted29.
If, on the other hand, the insect is relatively small and difficult to distinguish from the food substance, one may not remove it, as is, on Shabbat. One may, however, remove some of the food together with the insect. In such a case, one is not removing bad from good. One is removing good and bad from good―which is permitted.
One may not soak foods on Shabbat and holidays in order to remove the insects that are upon them30. This is indeed borrer (separating), and is prohibited. (In addition, if the insects are alive and the soaking kills them, a second prohibited action—killing the insect—has taken place.) 31