Question: I accidentally stuck a meat spoon into a pot with boiling-hot milk in it. I had not become aware of this until after all the dishes were washed and this spoon was placed back in the drawer where all the other meat spoons in the house are. Must I now perform Hag’ala to all the spoons?
Answer: We have already explained several times that when one uses a utensil with hot food, the utensil absorbs some of the food’s flavor. It is for this reason that all of the utensils we use for eating dairy are designated as “dairy utensils” and all the utensils we use for eating meat are designated as “meat utensils”.
If dairy was cooked in a vessel which has previously absorbed meat flavor, such as a pot within which meat was cooked, the dairy food cooked in the pot becomes forbidden for consumption, for this dairy food has absorbed some meat flavor from the pot in which it is currently being cooked.
The Twenty-Four Hour Rule
Nevertheless, the above law only applies when the dairy food is being cooked in a pot in which meat was previously cooked within twenty-four hours (of the current cooking of dairy). Only in this manner will the meat flavor absorbed by the pot still be considered tasty and this tasty flavor will then be released by the pot into the dairy food and prohibit it by Torah law. However, if twenty-four hours (or more) have passed since meat was last cooked in the pot, the dairy food does not become forbidden for consumption (we are obviously discussing a situation where the pot is clean), for at this point, the pot will only release “putrid” meat flavor into the dairy food (the meat flavor absorbed by the walls of the pot only remains tasty for a period of twenty-four hours; after this point, the taste becomes old and putrid) and such flavor does not have the power to prohibit the food after the fact. This means that it is certainly forbidden to cook a dairy food in a meat pot to begin with, for our Sages forbade using meat utensils for dairy foods and vice versa even after twenty-four hours since the previous cooking have passed. However, if this was done in error and twenty-four hours since the prior cooking of meat in the pot have elapsed, the dairy food does not become forbidden for consumption. (Nevertheless, if this occurs, the pot itself becomes forbidden for use since it has now absorbed both meat and dairy flavors together and it must go through a process of Hag’ala before it can be used again, as we have explained on several other occasions.)
A Utensil Which Gets Mixed Up With Others
Regarding the above question where a meat spoon was stuck into a pot containing boiling milk, the spoon immediately becomes forbidden for use because it now contains flavors absorbed from both meat and dairy within it. The spoon must therefore undergo Hag’ala, immersing it in a pot of boiling water bubbling aggressively and only then will it once again become permitted for use.
In this situation, however, the spoon became mixed up with all of the other meat spoons in the house. We must now determine whether or not this calls for all of the meat spoons in the house to undergo Hag’ala.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 102) rules, as follows: “A utensil which becomes forbidden for use as a result of absorbing a forbidden taste and then gets mixed up with other utensils and is not discernible (i.e. it is impossible to tell which one of the utensils absorbed the forbidden taste) is then nullified by the majority.” This means that since this utensil became mixed up with many other utensils, the forbidden utensil is nullified by the others and it is therefore not halachically necessary to perform Hag’ala on all of the utensils. Thus, all of the utensils would then be permissible for use with meat.
Nevertheless, the great Poskim disagree whether or not there is an obligation to wait twenty-four hours before using these spoons, for within twenty-four hours, one of these spoons certainly contains a dairy flavor within it and after twenty-four hours, this dairy taste becomes putrid and it will therefore become permissible to use that very spoon according to Torah law and abstaining from using it from that point on is only the result of a rabbinic injunction, at which point it would then be permissible to rely on the fact that this spoon was nullified by the majority of permissible spoons.
Halachically speaking, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules (in his Halichot Olam, Volume 7, page 87) that it is preferable to wait until twenty-four hours have elapsed and it will then become permissible to use all the spoons without performing Hag’ala on them.