Valentine’s Day is a day where love is celebrated worldwide. The tradition originated to celebrate the work of Saint Valentine, a Christian martyr who lived in Rome in the third century. Saint Valentine helped secretly marry Christian couples who were forbidden from doing so under the strict Roman rule, such as soldiers. It is said that before his execution, he left behind a letter to his jailor’s daughter whom he helped, and signed it, “your Valentine”. Hence, the famous greeting card question – “be my Valentine?”
Over the years, Valentine’s Day evolved further away from religion – and closer to our hearts. On this day, it is customary for lovers to bring each other gifts and, most often, chocolates, as a way to show their love to one another.
Valentine’s Day has a significant economic impact as well as a social one: According to the National Retail Federation, Valentine’s Day sales alone add 27.4 billion dollars to the economy every year.
The chocolate industry specifically has a lot to be thankful for every Valentine’s Day. Americans alone purchase over 58 million pounds of chocolate in the seven days up to Valentine’s Day every year (over 26 million kg).
The quick thinking of the known British chocolate company, Cadbury, is apparently the reason for this. In the mid-19th century, America was more focused on Valentine’s Day cards and greetings than chocolates. However, in 1868 Cadbury had the brilliant idea to create what they aptly named “Fancy Boxes” – a heart-shaped box of chocolates created and sold specifically for Valentine’s Day. The public loved it, and the special boxes sold out quickly. Since Cadbury first started it, the habit of exchanging all kinds of chocolates on Valentine’s day spread like wild-fire around the world.
Like most food industries, the chocolate making industry must work with extra care while preparing the beloved treats. A lot could go wrong with sensitive, edible products such as chocolate.
Good And Bad Bacteria – Even In Chocolate
In the chocolate-making process, different bacteria and fungi are used to help create the unique chocolaty flavor. Cocobiota, a specific unity of bacteria and fungi, are used to ferment the pulp surrounding cocoa beans. They degrade the sugars in the beans and contribute to the strong chocolate taste.
However, chocolate can also be easily contaminated by other dangerous pathogens, such as Salmonella.
Even widely known brands aren’t a “safe” option. Ironically enough due to their vital role in the popularization of chocolates during Valentine’s Day, Cadbury themselves had a salmonella outbreak linked to their chocolate bars back in 2006.
Norway and Finland suffered from a similar outbreak, originating in a factory in Trondheim. After 67 reported cases, the National Health Department of Finland issued a public warning for the chocolate products, causing product recall from 13,500 retail outlets in Finland alone and the destruction of around 1,300,000 pounds (600,000 kg) of chocolate.
According to the article, “Outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium Infection Traced to Contaminated Chocolate and Caused by a Strain Lacking the 60-Megadalton Virulence Plasmid” published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, “… it is conceivable that ingredients present in chocolate protect salmonella against the action of gastric acid. The few salmonella present in the final product could then colonize the lower gastrointestinal tract and produce clinical symptoms…”
The article also pointed out that, “… chocolate confectioners are faced with a rather unusual situation, in which the low moisture content and high sugar content of chocolate do not favor bacterial proliferation, but significantly increase the thermal resistance of bacteria. Fatty materials in milk chocolate further increase the thermal resistance. Thus, heat treatment, such as dry roasting of cocoa beans, heating of cocoa liquor, and conching of chocolate (a process in which the chocolate is swirled and heat-dried to the proper consistency), cannot be expected to efficiently eliminate salmonellae.”
Indeed, Salmonella and E. Colli can be easily transmitted through touch, and due to the chocolate’s properties, be passed on to whoever eats it. If a careless employee at a chocolate factory were to pass along this hand-borne pathogen, major trouble ensues. Despite recent technological advancements, there is no way around having employees handle the food themselves at one point or another in the manufacturing process. Gloving in the food industry, as we know, is simply not enough to ensure the food’s safety. Making sure all employees are following the needed hand washing guidelines when it comes to hand wash quality, frequency and compliance is critical before handling sensitive products such as chocolate.
So, what can you do to ensure your Valentine’s Day chocolate is safe to eat?
Shell-life for chocolate depends on whether it’s dark, milk or white chocolate. Chocolate’s shelf life, in general, can span anywhere from two weeks to a year, depending on how the chocolate was prepared, packed and stored. Chocolates with softer fillings have a shorter shelf life and should be eaten faster. Dark chocolates last the longest, and can stay good for a year if properly packed in air-sealed foil and stored in a dry, dark, cool place. Milk and white chocolates don’t last as long, and can hold on for 8 or 10 months at most under ideal conditions.
The powdery exterior that sometimes covers chocolates once unwrapping is called bloom, and doesn’t necessarily mean that the chocolates have gone bad. It is caused by temperature changes in the chocolate’s environment after packing. The appearance of bloom, on its own, doesn’t mean that the chocolate has gone bad and that you can’t eat it anymore.
If you’re going on a dinner date, you can check out these tips to avoid food poisoning. If you’re planning on spending a large amount of money, you can check out this site: Foodborne Illness Database. It provides summaries for significant food and water related outbreaks, so you can research the company’s previous track-record before purchasing. We would recommend ensuring the company you choose to purchase from is following all FDA guidelines when it comes to cleanliness and hygiene in their plants. This includes, of course, optimal hand hygiene practices around the sensitive products that they manufacture.
Soapy has a unique hand hygiene solution, which caters to the food industry’s needs perfectly. The CleanMachine, Soapy’s personal hand hygiene stations, scan the hands as they are being washed. The user has a screening of the correct hand washing movements playing in the smart screen attached to the washing station. At the end of the wash cycle, the motion sensors inside the machine process the hand movements and display a report that shows the user how well their wash cycle went and what needs to be improved. The CleanMachine also measures each washer’s body temperature, to ensure no one has developed fever-like symptoms during the workday. The CleanMachine is incredibly efficient in resources, and can save up to 95% of water and up to 60% of reagents. It can also be fitted with hand-sanitizer, and provided with a shorter or longer disinfecting process according to each business’ needs. The Soapy Wisdom platform gathers this hand hygiene data in one easily understandable, secure app, highlighting hygiene trends inside work facilities and assisting managers in bettering their compliance rates. If you want to learn more about the CleanMachine, you can contact us here!