How to Read Kosher Symbols on Food Packaging

Here's a quick look at what all the kosher symbols mean.

If you’re Jewish, you definitely know the importance of kosher food. Kosher, in Hebrew, means “fit,” as in “fit to eat,” and refers to Jewish dietary law. However, it’s not just useful if you’re Jewish. Because one of the main tenets is to keep meat and dairy separate, kosher labels on food products are also useful to consumers who are vegetarian, lactose intolerant or have other dietary restrictions. For this reason, it’s important to know what kosher symbols look like and what they mean.

Most kosher certification worldwide is done by Orthodox Union Kosher, also known as OU Kosher. Based in New York, the agency certifies almost 70% of kosher food around the world. So if you’re on the lookout for kosher ingredients or want to pick up some kosher snacks, it’s important to know the symbols they use.

Kosher Symbols According to OU Kosher

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If a Product Is Marked OU

OU Kosher uses the letter “U” inside an “O” to mark all their certified products. Any item marked with this symbol indicates that the product is, in kosher terms, “parve” or “pareve”—but not kosher specifically for Passover. In other words, it indicates:

  • The product contains neither dairy nor meat, nor any dairy or meat derivatives.
  • It was not made on dairy equipment.
  • It was not made on equipment used for making meat products.

If a Product Is Marked OU-D

If the symbol has the letter “D” added, it indicates the presence of dairy. This may mean:

  • The product is dairy or has been on dairy equipment.
  • The product contains a dairy ingredient or a dairy derivative.

According to kosher guidance, this means that this product shouldn’t be heated or reheated in pots and pans or used with any dishes or cutlery that have come in contact with meat.

If a Product Is Marked OU-DE

If the symbol has the letters “DE,” it doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of dairy. It may mean:

  • While the product may not contain dairy ingredients, it was made on equipment also used for making dairy products.

Whether you choose to mix products like this with meat depends on your interpretation of kosher law. For vegans, this food would probably be considered safe to eat, though people with a lactose/milk allergy may steer clear.

If a Product Is Marked OU-M or OU-Glatt

If the symbol has the letter “M” or “Glatt” added, it indicates the presence of meat. This may mean:

  • The product is Kosher meat or a product with meat ingredients or a derivative of meat.
  • The product may not contain meat ingredients, but it was made on equipment also used for making meat products.

According to kosher guidance, this means that this product shouldn’t be heated or reheated in pots and pans or used with any dishes or cutlery that have come in contact with dairy.

If a Product Is Marked OU-F

If the symbol has the letter “F” added, it indicates the presence of fish. This may mean:

  • The product has fish ingredients.

While fish can be cooked with dairy and on equipment used with meat, kosher guidance indicates it should not be mixed with meat. However, there can be some confusion with this classification. Kosher guidance also says that if the other ingredients outnumber the fish ingredient in the kosher mandated ratio (60 to 1), the fish is considered dissipated in the other ingredients. This is why, for example, some Worcestershire sauces may be marked kosher and some might not make the cut.

If a Product Is Marked OU-P

If the symbol has the letter “P” added, that means it’s kosher for Passover.

What About Other Certifications?

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While OU Kosher is considered the gold standard by some, there are definitely other certifications to keep an eye out for. Whether you keep strict kosher or pick up the products due to other dietary restrictions, it’s important to know what symbols you might come across. All certifications may not keep to the same standards, so make sure you do your research!

Other certifying agencies may use different letters to indicate whether a product is pareve or contains meat and/or dairy. For instance, while OU Kosher uses “P” to indicate “kosher for Passover,” others may use it to indicate pareve. Take a look at how each agency labels their products to make sure you’re picking up the right one for you.

Kosher goes beyond just what you buy in the supermarket—so don’t forget to buy these essentials for your kosher kitchen.

Classic Recipes for Passover
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Amrita Thakkar
Amrita is an Assistant Digital Editor at Taste of Home. As a writer and amateur photographer, she often ends up applying these skills to her one great love: food. She can usually be found researching global cuisines, at the farmers market, doing yoga, or looking up new places to travel to.