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Chocolate production hazards – HACCP Easter everyone!

Chocolate Easter eggsDid you know that Cadbury’s make between 40 and 50 million Easter Eggs each year? That a whole lot of eggs! As with every other large scale food manufacturing operation, chocolate producers need to have a HACCP plan in place. But first, let’s look at the various stages in producing chocolate.

How chocolate is made

At the cocoa farm

Cocoa harvestThe first stage of the chocolate chain is harvesting. Cocoa pods are collected and then split so that the white pulp containing the cocoa beans can be scooped out.

Next workers place the pods and pulp into large containers where they ferment. Someone turns the beans periodically so that they ferment evenly. The process takes around 5 days.

Drying is the next process. This is generally achieved by spreading the beans out into a single layer and leaving them in the sun in temperate countries. Otherwise they are dried by the fire.

The cocoa beans are then placed into sacks and exported to the chocolate maker.

Cocoa beansAt the chocolate manufacturer

Once the beans have been received and checked, they are roasted. The next step is known as winnowing. This is the process of blowing air through the product to remove the husks from the cocoa beans. What you are left with what are known as nibs.

The nibs go through a grinding and conching process. Depending on the size of the manufacturer this is either done separately or in a single process. The end result is refined granules of cocoa containing both cocoa mass (cocoa solids) and cocoa butter. The more cocoa butter in a bar of chocolate, the better the quality of the chocolate. Some manufacturers replace some of the cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable fats. The ground particles are combined with sugar and other flavourings. This is where the milk powder is added if it is to be milk chocolate.

Melted chocolateThe mixture is then tempered. This means heating and then cooling and then heating it again so that crystals form that allows the chocolate to snap, rather than crumble. This process is done in a large tempering machine which can accurately control the temperatures and keep the liquid chocolate circulating evenly.

The final step in producing a chocolate bar or Easter egg is pouring the melted chocolate into plastic moulds and leaving them to cool. They are then tapped out, wrapped and boxed, ready for transportation.

Hazards in chocolate production

bluebottleAs with any food production process, there are various physical, chemical and microbiological hazards present in chocolate manufacture. At the receiving stage of the cocoa pods these are wood, chaff, plant materials, pesticides and fertilisers and pests, such as insects or worms.

During the splitting process you need to be vigilant of metal shards, chemicals from equipment used and potential contamination from handlers.

The fermentation process often takes place in wooden containers, so there is the danger of pieces of wood. There is also the risk of growth of salmonella microbes.

Hazards whilst drying the beans include dust and foreign objects. Also the development of mould if the beans are not left to dry properly before being bagged.

Once the beans reach the chocolate manufacturer there is the risk of microbial growth due to insufficient roasting times and temperatures. At winnowing there is also the potential for contamination due to foreign objects in the air, dust , pollution and microbes.

Chocolate mouldGrinding and conching hazards include stones and other physical contaminants from added ingredients, metal shards and chemical taint from equipment as well as microbial contamination.  At the tempering stage there is also the risk of metal fragments as well as contamination form poorly maintained equipment.

During moulding physical hazards include dust particles, plastic materials and microbiological contamination from poorly cleaned moulds. Packing hazards are foreign objects, labelling ink and packing materials.

Prerequisites for chocolate producers

Of course, many hazards can be avoided by the implementation of an effective prerequisite programme. This includes such areas as pest control, cleaning programmes and waste control. Other factors include operator training, employee personal hygiene and the use of PPC as well as scheduled preventative maintenance programmes.

Regular calibration is also essential. Many Critical Control Points rely on the accuracy of meters, thermometers, gauges, pH meters, metal detectors, timing devices, scales and pressure gauges. Tolerances are often minute so even a slight inaccuracy can compromise food safety.

Control Points and Critical Control Points

Just a reminder that in a HACCP programme a Critical Control Point (CCP) is a step where control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. In many instances in food production it is the heating, cooking or cooling stage. Another CCP is a final metal detection. Essentially a CCP is the last point in a process where the food safety hazard can be controlled.

There are several control points in the chocolate production process, but only a couple of them are critical.

Control points in chocolate production

chocolate bar

  • Receiving – visual inspection , use of chemical-free materials, building maintenance
  • Splitting – Magnetic separator, sanitised equipment, personal hygiene
  • Fermentation– visual inspection, regular maintenance of fermentation tanks
  • Drying – visual inspection, observation of time and temperature
  • Roasting – correct time and temperature to kill pathogens
  • Grinding – visual inspection, sanitisation of equipment
  • Conching – visual inspection, proper maintenance of equipment
  • Tempering – visual inspection, sanitised equipment
  • Moulding – ensure moulds are clean
  • Packing – metal detection, food grade inks, appropriate packaging materials, correct labelling

Examples of Critical Control Points are during the roasting and wrapping processes. The cocoa beans need to be roasted at temperatures between 105?C and 120?C and to specific times to eliminate pathogens. The chocolate bars or eggs also need to be wrapped in aseptic conditions. Metal detection is also a critical control point.

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Happy Easter!