By Eli Gersten
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Q: Often at business functions, I can only partake of the fruits and vegetables since the rest of the food is not kosher. Most of the time, the fruit is already cut. In such a scenario, is it permitted to eat the cut fruit?
A: There are two areas of concern with regard to fruits and vegetables prepared in a nonkosher kitchen. First, halachah is concerned about cleanliness; in particular, the cleanliness of the knife, the cutting board and the “cutter’s” hands or gloves. Second, even if we assume everything is perfectly clean, we must contend with the kosher status of the knife. Nonkosher food particles may be absorbed into the knife and could potentially transfer to the fruit or vegetable being cut.
Rashi (Chullin 112a) notes that oftentimes knives can appear clean but retain a fatty film that can only be completely removed by scouring with an abrasive substance. Ordinary rinsing does not suffice. This concern, cited in Shulchan Aruch, is especially applicable to serrated knives, which commonly contain visible residue between the grooves. If one did not scour the knife used for nonkosher food, or if the fruits and vegetables were prepared on a surface that may have been greasy from nonkosher meats or cheeses, then the food in question would require a thorough scrubbing before eating.
Additionally, foods that have a very sharp or bitter taste, such as raw onions, radishes, garlic or lemons, have the ability to leach the taste absorbed in the knife. Therefore, if any of these sharp or bitter items were cut with a nonkosher knife—even a clean one—they may not be eaten. However, if a nonkosher knife was used to cut a large number of lemons, we can assume that the nonkosher taste dissipated after the first four or five lemons and the remaining lemons may be eaten. If the lemons get mixed together so that it is impossible to discern which were cut first and which last, the nonkosher lemons become batel (nullified) in the greater majority and any lemon may be consumed.
Let us now apply these concepts to some common cases. If your coworker offers you a slice of an apple that she has just cut with a knife, politely decline. You should assume that the knife was previously used to cut a nonkosher bologna sandwich or a wedge of nonkosher cheese. Although the knife appears to be clean, Rashi tells us that unless the knife was scoured, it probably retains residue. If you feel compelled to eat the slice of apple, scrub it first.
If your co-workers bought a fruit platter from a supermarket, you may partake of the fruit since you can assume the supermarket has a dedicated knife for fruit platters. Additionally, due to the sheer volume of fruit cut at one time in such a scenario, we regard the knives and surfaces as clean. The same applies to precut watermelon sold in supermarkets; there is no need to trim the edges.
However, if the fruit platter came from a nonkosher restaurant or caterer, it is questionable whether you may partake of the fruit, since a single order might be prepared with a nondedicated knife or on a dirty surface or with the chef’s greasy hands. In this case, the fruit will require washing.
The halachot of cut salads (assuming there is no concern of insect infestation) would be similar to what we discussed above regarding fruit. Sliced onions, radishes, lemons or any other spicy fruit or vegetable should be avoided, unless it is clear that they were cut in great abundance, in which case all the problematic onions or lemons would be batel.
Rabbi Eli Gersten is a rabbinic coordinator for OU Kosher and recorder of OU Policy.