I've got a question regarding kashrut. I know this kind of question isn't in my normal category of discussions on this blog since I'm more concerned with theory and philosophy, etc., rather than the technical carrying-out of the Halachic system. My usual approach to Halacha being 'Don't sweat the small stuff."
I've been doing some studying lately and I've got something interesting that I wonder if actually works out in the wider system of kashrut. It seems to work out in what I've looked at so far, but maybe there's a diferent perspective that I'm missing from it.
Anyway, my point is that it appears to me that the Halachic idea of batel b'rov and it's further rabbinic structure of batel b'shishim is largely ignored when encountering questions of kashruth. Take, for example, the ideas of reicha and zeiah, the "aroma" and steam that arise from food via cooking. The idea is that if you cook meat in an oven the "meatiness" rises from the food and can then get absorbed into the walls of the oven hence making the oven itself fleishig. That means that you can no longer cook uncovered milk dishes in the same oven because while cooking, the "meatiness" in the oven's walls will be released and will settle on the milchik food, thereby traifing the food because of mixing meat and milk. This principle applies similarly to cooking in a oven once used to cook traif meat.
My question is why doesn't batel b'shishim relieve us of any concern regarding this mixture of "meatiness" and our milk dish? At worst we can only be talking about a few droplets of "meaty" particles that will land in the milk dish. We can't see any meatiness, it doesn't taste any different. The meat particles are far less than 1/60th of the total dish - why cannot we just consider it as cancelled out?
This further reminded my of using unkosher silverware or otherwise utensils on the wrong side of the milk/meat divide. Whatever the amount of unkosher stuff that gets added via the utensils, it can't hardly be enough to overcome the amount of kosher food actually being prepared. It can't even be a sixtieth of the amount.
Now, granted, there are generally accepted Halachic strictures with regard to food that is kosher through batel b'shishim. For example, that one person may not eat all the food so prepared or that one should not eat it all at one time since in doing so then you know that you've had to have eaten some non-kosher food. The strictest of these rules is that one should leave over an amount of food equal to the non-kosher stuff added. But even with the strictest approach, since the amount of non-kosher stuff can only be as much as a few droplets at most, as long as you don't lick your cooking pot clean, the actual eating of food would be no different.
We can go even further and discuss commercial foodstuffs. They need to list their ingredients on the packaging. As long as there are no questionable items in the ingredients wouldn't the food be kosher even if the machines or other non-ingredients that were used in its manufacture were not kosher? (This wouldn't work for renin in cheese and other stuff that operate by different rules, though.)
I also know that one cannot intentionally add non-kosher food with the intention of using batel b'shishim as a loophole. But in all of these examples, we are not intentionally adding traif to what was kosher, we are just not being very careful to ensure that traif doesn't get added. Yet with such an attitude the food is still kosher! Being 'careless' is not the same as being intentional.
And even for examples where non-kosher food was added intentionally, the fact is that the food is deemed unkosher only for the person who made it with such an attitude. It is still considered kosher generally and can be eaten by another Jew. The only stricture here is that the maker cannot derive benefit from it. So the maker cannot eat it, nor his family, and he cannot sell it as if it were a kosher product, with the inherent inflated cost. So for that commercial food - which is already sold as non-kosher food - and is probably even produced by a goy, it would be permissible to eat.
And naturally I recognize that this isn't mehadrin. But the point is whether or not it is indeed kosher, not whether it follows the strictest rules.
Of course all of this is speculative so don't take my word for it. But I'm really curious as to what a Halachic expert would say. Go, ask your rabbis and get back to me.