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Restaurant & Catering ethics-Allowing employees to eat from the food that they prepare and serve
I work in a kitchen together with two other workers for a small business caterer in preparing and cooking the food. We spend several hours a day cooking and deep frying schnitzel as well as other chicken and meats, and naturally we would take some of it for ourselves to eat, assuming that it is our legal and halachic right, and that the boss doesn’t mind. The other day my boss, the owner of the catering company, entered the kitchen and saw us eating a plate of schnitzel and roasted beef that we had just finished frying and cooking, and he got very upset and he told us that we do not have permission to eat from any of the meats and chicken and fish that we cook, and that it is very expensive for him, and if we do eat from it then he will diminish it from our salary. We are all Torah observant Jews, and very upsettingly replied to him that he has an obligation according to Halacha to allow us to eat the food that we prepare. He, however, denied this being true. In the end we got into a big argument, with us claiming that he is very stingy, and even cruel for making us work with the food and not being allowed to taste it. Can you please clarify the law.
While your employer is not obligated to allow you to eat the food that you cook and prepare, nonetheless, he at the very least should allow you to taste some of the foods that you are cooking or preparing and have a craving for due to their smell. My suggestion and recommendation would be for the employer to permit you to take one piece of schnitzel per day and so on and so forth with other foods simply out of kindness, employer ethics, and due to the accepted custom in many food establishments to permit the workers to eat the food that they prepare. If however despite the above, he forbids you from taking the food, then you do not have a right to take it and it would be considered stealing.
While it is true that there is a law discussed in Scripture, Talmud, and Shulchan Aruch, relating to employers, that they must permit their employees to eat from the food that they work with and if the prevent them from eating then they transgress a biblical command, nonetheless, there are several caveats to this law, and it hence only applies in very specific scenarios. For example, it only applies to an employee who is working with actual food, and the food grows from the ground [i.e. excluding poultry meat and fish, dairy products, drinks and snacks] and he is working on the food in the field in the area of its growth. Likewise, when working on products that are still attached to the ground, he may only eat from the food if he is performing the final task in the field, and only if he has already placed the food in the vessel of the owner. When working on products that are already detached from the ground, he may only eat from the food if its final task has yet to be performed to obligate it in being tithed, however once its final task has been performed to now make it obligated in Maaser, then he may not eat from it. Thus, by wheat and the like which are ground to flour and become obligated in Challah, he may eat from it only until it becomes kneaded with water, however once it is already kneaded with water then he may no longer eat from it, and thus the person who kneads the dough and baker may not eat from it, and certainly one who delivers the bread may not eat from it. Furthermore, even when permitted, the employee may only eat from the food while he is actually in the process of doing the work with the food and not afterwards, and hence he may not take for himself a plate of the food and sit down to eat it. He may also not overeat from the food. Likewise, some Poskim rule he may only eat from the food if it will not amount to more than his salary, and only if he was hired for a full day’s work, and not for the general job.
From all the above it is clear that you do not retain the Halachic right to eat from the food that you are cooking either due to the fact that it is not food produce which grows from the ground or even if it were to be, due to the fact that you are not in the field, and therefore your employer does not transgress this law by preventing you from eating from the cooked schnitzel and meat and fish and could technically even prohibit you from eating the vegetables and other foods in the kitchen.
However, all hope is not lost as we have a separate Halacha regarding a waiter which states that the master of the home must provide his waiter with a taste of all the different dishes that he will be serving during the meal and contains a good smell which may cause the waiter to lust after the food. Furthermore, it is an act of piety to give the waiter to taste even from the foods that have no smell. Now, although the Achronim write that this is no longer customary today, this is because it is customary to allow the waiter to eat by the meal, and hence in the event that you will not be allowing the waiter to eat by the meal, then you should allow them to eat the food. Furthermore, it is a clear ruling in the Talmud and Poskim, that one who sees a food item and craves after it, then if he does not eat it, it is a grave danger.
A further argument that can be made is that the custom in many food establishments is to permit the workers to eat from the food that they prepare and serve, and hence the employer would be considered bound to the custom upon hiring an employee unless expressly stated otherwise at the time of hiring. However, the big problem with this argument is that for such a custom to be effective it would have to be universal, and this is not the case, as every restaurant and catering has their own policies regarding this matter, and it would be very difficult to argue that it is a universal policy to permit the employee to eat the food that he cooks and prepares.
According to all the above, while the employer is not obligated to allow you to eat the food that you work with in preparing the catering, nonetheless, he at the very least should allow you to taste some of the foods that you are cooking or preparing and have a craving for due to their smell.
My suggestion and recommendation would be for the employer to permit you to take one piece of schnitzel per day, although he is not obligated to do so, although he is to allow you to taste from the food that you crave due to their scent.
Sources: See regarding the general law of a worker eating the food that he works with: Admur C.M. Hilchos Sheila Usechirus Uchasima Halacha 22-23; Michaber 337:1-20; Mishneh and Gemara Bava Metiza 87b-92a; Rambam Sechirus 12:1; Devarim 23:25; 25:4; See regarding giving the waiter to eat from each food: Michaber O.C. 169:1; M”B 169:1-3; Biur Halacha 169 Miyad; Piskeiy Teshuvos 169:1; See regarding the danger of craving a food that one smells and not eating it: Admur 617:3; Michaber 617:3; Rosh 8:13; Kesubos 61a; Kitzur SHU”A 33:4; Ben Ish Chaiy Pinchas 2:16; M”B 169:3; 617:8; Darkei Teshuvah 116:50; Shemiras Hanefesh 25; Kaf Hachaim Y.D. 116:151; Sefer Shemiras Haguf Vihanefesh [Lerner] 34:1, 3-4; See regarding giving to Shamash/waiter: Michaber 169:1; M”B 169:1; Biur Halacha “Lishamesh”