Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: For health reasons, I was unable to cook for Pesach and had no choice but to order food for our Seder from a caterer with a very mehadrin hashgachah. Once the last remnants of our chametz were burned, I decided to go check out the caterer’s kitchen to assure that they were abiding by all the promised stringencies. I was horrified by what met my eyes. The kitchen wasn’t properly cleaned, and I noticed some non-kosher-for-Pesach items in a corner. But, worst of all, I saw that they were using non-kosher-for-Pesach soup mix in their cooking. Needless to say, I cancelled my order on the spot, and with great effort organized myself to cook the basics for Yom Tov in my own house.

About two hours before Yom Tov the caterer called and apologized for the confusion with the soup mix, and said that a competent Rabbi ruled that the food was permitted for consumption on Pesach. I refused to take the food, and the caterer promised to reimburse me for my money.

The whole frustrating episode thus ended without any spiritual or financial loss on my part. My question is: Is it my responsibility to publicize my story and warn the public of the pitfalls? If that is the case, should I mention the caterer’s name or just publicize a general warning?

A: One cannot say that you are obligated to publicize the mishap in the caterer’s kitchen, but it is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. By no means, however, should you include the caterer’s name. Although people are aware that errors do occur in rare cases, your story concerns a very mehadrin hechsher, and it is assumed that there was a mashgiach on premises who would be on the alert that these things don’t happen. In any case, this incident reinforces what we already know, that even the best hechsher with reliable mashgichim can’t compare to homemade food with careful adherence to all hiddurim, especially when it comes to Pesach cooking when there are endless stringencies involved.

In light of the above, it is important to publicize the story — as in this newspaper — so that the public realizes the importance of home-cooking food. It is, however, totally forbidden to mention the caterer’s name, because his mistake notwithstanding, he carries a mehadrin hechsher and what happened was a very rare mishap.