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The Amazing Cacao Bean: CACAO AND FOOD SAFETY

The Amazing Cacao Bean


A fascinating three part blog on the amazing cacao bean by FSPA Food Safety Trainer & Consultant, Lisa Kleiner MSc Food Safety & Mgt, MSc Nutrition.

The rise in Artisan Bean to Bar chocolate makers means there will be a need for food safety consultancy in this area. Many set out to make artisan foods without any real knowledge of the safety and quality aspects of the products they are making, and for consultants it is an area we may not be so familiar with.

Bean to Bar production starts at the sourcing stage with the decision of the origin and type of cacao bean. There are 3 main types; Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario with Forastero making up 80%-90% of world production and most of that coming from West Africa.

Beans are harvested in pods, removed and fermented. After fermentation they are dried to approximately 7% moisture. The production of chocolate from bean is a long one and takes many stages. The first stage is sorting, (there is very little information or advice available about the necessity to wash the beans at this point) and most producers don’t. The better quality the bean the cleaner they are at this stage. The beans are then batch roasted, which is a stage very individual to each chocolate maker. The time and temperature of roasting will have a huge effect on the chocolate flavour, as will the bean variety used, however, they will roast to about a surface temperature of 120°C allowing for a microbial kill process.

The beans are then cooled, cracked and winnowed. Winnowing is the process of separating the outer husk from the inner nib. The nibs are then placed in a councher/melanger and ground down with sugar and cocoa butter to make chocolate. This can take anything from 24-48 hours and the flavours of the chocolate is built here along with the removal of the grittiness. This is what we know as “Cocoa Mass.” It is usually poured through a sieve and left to cool. Some will temper it straight away and others let it age. Tempering the chocolate gives the final product snap and sheen and an extended shelf life. In poorly tempered chocolate you may notice what is called a “bloom” and this is basically the separation of the sugar and fat molecules.

EU regulations 1881/2006 and (EC) 488/2014; Maximum Levels of Cadmium in Foodstuffs require all cacao beans to be tested for cadmium. Cadmium is naturally occurring especially in volcanic soil where levels will be higher. Although the Cacao bean producer will have tested his beans there is also the necessity for bean to bar makes to ensure their finished product has cadmium levels meeting EU regulation as follows;

This regulation also sets out the MRL’s for the presence of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. (EU) 2017/84 of 16 January 2016 highlights that packaging of cacao beans can be a source of hydrocarbons and therefore must be controlled in the HACCP system. (EC) No.396/2005 lays down the MRL’s for pesticides both on the bean and on the husk found in Annex 1 part A and Annex 11.

The bean to bar maker, however, must establish a testing protocol with most tests occurring as a once off, when the system is established, depending on the addition of other ingredients. It is expected that the roasted beans be tested for Acrylamide, Regulation 2017/2158. While there are no benchmark levels set currently it is expected to test regardless and that it be included within the HACCP plan under chemical hazards. It is advised that all necessary steps be taken to reduce levels to as low as reasonably possibly. In most bean roasting processes the surface temperature of the bean does not increase over 120°C so the chance of acrylamide forming in high levels in very low, so could it be argued that testing is not necessary?? The FSAI also expect the bean to bar makers to control for Furan, as it was found to have formed in cacao beans in one research study conducted by EFSA. Again no MRL’s or benchmarks are set and tests like this are hard to find!

After that, it’s just the usual shelf life and water availability with ongoing sensory testing. Although chocolate is a low-risk product there is also the possibly of contamination during production, especially in small bean to bar producers. Strict hygiene rules must be followed and a documented food safety management system is essential. These rules come from General Food Law; (EC) 178/2002 on the General Principles and Requirements of food Law, (EC) 852/2004 – on the Hygiene of Foodstuffs. Specific to Cacao Directive 2000/36/EC – Cocoa and Chocolate Products and then of course FIC Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers.

The next blog has some lovely recipes which have chocolate at their heart – until next time! 

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