Dr. Saurabh Arora- Founder of Food Safety helpline and Food Safety Mobile App
Chocolates are regarded as world’s most popular snack food or a gift. An average American consumes over 4kg of chocolate annually, while in Switzerland, which is world’s leading chocolate producer, a Swiss consumes over double this amount. Indians also have a sweet tooth, and consume considerable amount of sweets, including chocolates.
But have you ever wondered that these chocolates may get contaminated even if one has consumed it for long.
A part of celebrations
In fact chocolates hold a special place in every celebration as they are not only eaten, but are gifted to many friends and relatives. Not only this, corporate have special chocolate packages made to gift employees, associates and clients, especially for festive seasons. However, not everyone is aware that chocolates can be contaminated or adulterated just as easily as other food stuff. In fact adulteration in chocolates has a long history and since they are a very popular food item, they have been adulterated by unscrupulous manufacturers for profits for centuries.
Imported chocolates have unique problems
Branded chocolates as well as the homemade chocolates have seen a spurt in sale in last few years because of rising incomes. The market for chocolates is one of the fastest growing markets in India. Urban populations prefer them over traditional Indian sweets. India has a few chocolate manufacturers, but a lot of chocolates are imported. Imported chocolates most often are intolerant to India’s heat and with lack of cold storage conditions they melt and deteriorate, which could then become a source of microbiological contamination, if not stored at the right temperature.
Some leading brands in the US had their products contaminated with cadmium and/or lead. These products include Scharffen Berger Semisweet Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate, Dove Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate Bar, Ghiradelli Intense Dark 72% Cocoa Twilight Delight Chocolate Bar amongst others.
According to FSSAI, standard chocolates are not permitted to contain any vegetable oil and fats except cocoa butter. However, Codex permits 5 per cent vegetable fat in chocolates, but a lot of chocolate manufacturers allegedly add more than 20 per cent vegetable fat in the chocolates. Recently, FSSAI had published a proposed draft that will regulate sugar, salt and fat content in food products, which would be applicable to beverages as well as confectionery items like chocolate to prevent health hazards, like obesity, in children.
Contamination in homemade chocolates
Many people make chocolates at home as a home based industry. These chocolates are particularly favored during festive seasons. While homemade chocolates are very popular in some cities, they might not be regulated unlike chocolates made by leading chocolate manufacturers. There is no way to determine if those making chocolates at home have the license to make these products. Since they come under the unorganized sector, there is also no way to determine if they are following the hygiene requirements as laid down in the FSSAI regulations.
• These chocolates could be subject to bacterial contamination like salmonella, unless the raw materials like skim milk powder, milk, eggs, cocoa, etc. have been adequately heat-treated, pasteurized and handled to keep them free from bacterial contamination.
• Personal hygiene is a major problem, especially since many chocolate products are finished by hand-dipping
• Cocoa beans, nuts and other ingredients can be contaminated by insects, rodents, and mycotoxins unless stored properly.
• If the machinery is not cleaned and washed thoroughly and sanitized it could lead to infestation by insects or microbial contamination
It is quite clear that all-time favorite –chocolates can also be contaminated, which is a real threat to our health. Since, young children consume large quantities of chocolates it is important to safeguard their health. Therefore, chocolate manufacturers should take utmost care in maintaining high standards of quality. Moreover, standards and regulations must be followed so consumers can be provided with safe chocolates and chocolate products.