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Aug 29, 2023 5:32:59 PM9 min read

Quality Testing in Chocolate Manufacturing: Understanding the Issues and Enhancing Control

By: Sandra Liliana Ostos - Director of Quality and Environmental Management.

In chocolate manufacturing, no step is more crucial, yet understated, than quality control. 

Each bar or chocolate product that tastes delicious tells only half the story; the other half is written behind the scenes, in meticulous quality checks, rigorous standards, and an unwavering focus on consumer safety. 

During my years at the plant and the operations, I picked up a few insights about market certifications and concerns. If you're curious about quality in chocolate production, I'd be grateful to share what I've learned.

Browse this menu to learn more about our quest for chocolate excellence through a rigorous quality control process.

Let’s begin defining…

What is quality testing for chocolate manufacturing?

To ensure that products meet the highest quality and safety standards with a systemic approach based on processes and a continuous improvement cycle.

Quality testing for chocolate manufacturing encompasses a broad spectrum of analyses and assessments to ensure that the final product is safe for consumption, consistent in taste and texture, and adheres to established industry and company standards.

The delightful world of chocolate relies on meticulous quality control at every production stage. From bars to truffles, maintaining customer satisfaction and upholding brand reputation hinges on rigorous quality processes.

Quality issues in chocolate manufacturing.

Some of the major challenges or issues in quality control for chocolate manufacturing include:

Cocoa bean quality: The excellence of the final product depends on the quality of the cocoa bean, which is influenced by factors such as variety, soil, climate and harvesting conditions. Pest infestation, improper fermentation or poor drying can result in inferior beans, affecting taste and texture.

How to Recognise High-Quality Cocoa Beans?
Find out here

Contamination risks: Chocolate production faces bacterial, fungal, and physical contaminants. Cocoa beans may carry mycotoxins or heavy metals from the soil, harming health. Stones, dust, and metal fragments can enter during harvesting, transportation, or processing.

Process Control: Each stage of production needs to be carefully controlled. Precision in roasting, refining, conching, and tempering is vital. Variations in parameters impact the final chocolate's taste, texture, and appearance.

Some of the criteria analyzed in the process control may include: 
A. Physical and Sensory Analysis 
B. Chemical Analysis 
C.Microbiological Testing
D. Allergen Testing 
E. Shelf Life Testing 
F.Ingredient Authentication 
G.Tempering Quality 

Packaging: Chocolate is sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. Improper package conditions can cause fat or sugar to bloom, affecting chocolate's appearance and quality.

Regulatory Compliance: Chocolate makers adhere to food safety regulations, hygiene, and labeling. Non-compliance risks fines recalls, and reputation damage.

How is the quality of chocolate products guaranteed during the production process?

    • GMP compliance (hygienic habits of personnel, infrastructure, and machines)-Basic prerequisites. L&D, preventive maintenance, and training programs according to the activity.

    • Production plan aligned with the complete supply of materials.

    • The production process must comply with the manufacturing route defined for chocolate reference, which includes the recipe, flows, machine operating conditions, process and product specifications, and measurements of variables and attributes at critical stages.

    • Operators in charge of the monitoring process and product variables, quality checks in the process (recorded in the batch record), and, at the end, make a final validation of the counter sample.

Quality in Chocolate Production Begins at Origin

From the moment the cocoa bean is harvested until the final product goes to market, each stage of the chocolate production process is carefully monitored and subjected to strict quality controls.

Cocoa cultivation and bean processing are meticulous and critical steps in chocolate production. The harvested beans are then fermented for several days in controlled conditions where they're turned periodically for even fermentation; this process initiates the development of the classic chocolate flavour. 

After fermentation, beans are dried to lower their moisture content, preventing mold while preserving flavour. Finally, a rigorous selection process ensures only the highest quality beans, free from mold, damage, or inadequate fermentation or drying, proceed to subsequent stages of chocolate production.

“Maximizing quality in the cocoa value chain requires seamless integration and transparent relationships among growers, providers, and employees. Coordinating all process steps from planting to packaging fosters better quality control, sharing of best practices, and innovative feedback.” Sandra Ostos 

Then, refine it until we obtain a cocoa paste. This is followed by conching, where the ingredients are mixed, and the characteristic flavours and aromas are enhanced. 

Finally, the chocolate is tempered, which consists of controlling the crystallization of the cocoa butter to obtain a smooth texture and an attractive gloss so that the chocolate can be transferred to the molds of any application.

"At the plant, various preliminaries involve compliance with good practices such as staff competence, hygienic habits, adequate infrastructure and equipment. In addition, there is planning and delivery of materials for production, following protocols set out in the manufacturing routes. These routes establish detailed step-by-step operations, product recipes, and all necessary specifications, assuring that our products meet the highest standards”, says Sandra Ostos -Director of Quality Management at Luker Chocolate.

A commitment to sensory profile harmony

The art of sensory profiling is a meticulous endeavor. Our seasoned sensory professionals and trained panelists embark on a sensory journey grounded in theoretical and practical expertise. Through calibrated palates, our panelists master identifying basic flavours, detecting defects, and ensuring harmonized monthly assessments for consistency – a process aptly known as panelist calibration.

An interplay between skilled panelists and calibrated equipment, including internal teams and even those from our plant, underpins our rigorous approach. From cacao liquor profiles to identifying nuances and residues, our panelists' discerning reports guide strategic decisions.

Did you know?

Luker Chocolate's pathogen monitoring program focuses on identifying, preventing, and controlling the insidious risks of pathogenic microorganisms. This ensures zero tolerance for cross-contamination from Salmonella, which has been identified as the primary pathogen associated with cocoa and its derivatives.

Spanning four distinct zones within our facility, from direct-contact sites to areas removed from manufacturing processing, this approach serves as a robust initial defense. Our vigilant quality department holds products until microbiological results align with compliance standards, ensuring a secure release. If necessary, recall procedures are promptly activated. 

By steadfastly adhering to these stringent sensory evaluation protocols, from panelist calibration to prototype analysis, we achieve a harmonious sensory profile and maintain it across our entire range. This dedication to consistency encapsulates our mission to provide an experience that delights the senses with every indulgent bite.

Safety and security at every stage of production

Quality control services are essential for chocolate businesses, whether they produce or manufacture products for others. This validation is crucial to maintaining consumer trust and proves the product's quality.

Chocolate production is exposed to various physical, chemical, and microbiological hazards that must be controlled and monitored. Among the main ones is product contamination by heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, and mycotoxins.

Addressing these risks, the chocolate industry strives to ensure quality and consumer safety by implementing preventive and mitigation measures in its processes through a Quality Management System with clear guidelines and principles to manage and improve the quality of products within each company.

‍Streamlined Quality Management: Our integrated system merges all standards and policies into one user-friendly handbook aligned with ISO 17025. We ensure efficient and unified processes by covering infrastructure, equipment, staff competencies, complaints, grievance procedures, and purchasing.

An in-house laboratory to guarantee the results' competence, confidentiality, and reliability. In addition, control plans, including aptitude tests, are carried out with international laboratories to support the results' reliability.

"Taking into account the technical data sheets, we carry out attribute analyses, i.e., those physical characteristics of both the product and the packaging. We carry out routine studies related to physical-chemical tests, analysis of fats, granulometry, viscosities, and special analyses according to need. All batches have a sensory analysis that certifies that they are homologated and comply with a specific profile. This way, we finally have all the necessary elements to bring them to the market," explains Ostos.

Ensuring the quality of chocolate is a multi-faceted endeavor, considering both physical aspects and flavour profiles. For instance, during the physical evaluation of the beans, moisture is checked, cutting tests are carried out, and both external and internal mold is detected.

It should be noted that quality control allows the identification and correction of any deviations or problems in the whole production process, avoiding the distribution of defective or inconsistent products, which could damage the company's reputation. This also strengthens the relationship between the consumer and the brand.

What about allergen and heavy metals control?

One of the paramount concerns of our company is the meticulous control of allergens, a topic frequently raised in the industry. A preventive allergen control program is in place to guarantee consumer safety from allergen-related issues. This program encompasses measures safeguarding against cross-contact risks within the supply chain and accurate product labeling. 

“From inception, this approach involves pinpointing allergenic raw materials, meticulously handling their transport, storage, and every stage of the manufacturing process. Suppliers are requested to declare allergens within raw materials, with the onus on them to communicate any changes that could affect allergen presence. This ensures a proactive handling of allergen risks”, says Ostos.

In addition to controlling allergens, we prioritize monitoring heavy metals like cadmium and lead in our products. These metals occur naturally in soil and plants and can become chocolate. However, we are committed to adhering to strict specifications.

Our laboratory employs atomic absorption spectroscopy to quantify cadmium and lead. A comprehensive sampling plan is enacted, from sourcing to production, ensuring meticulous adherence to specified cadmium levels. This plan includes monitoring at other production stages, such as milling, storage tanks, product formulations, and finished products.

How does the Luker Laboratory work?

Among the most important certifications is the FSSC 22000 (Food Safety System Certification), which ensures food safety throughout production.

We also have the BASC Control and Security Management certification, which ensures the promotion of safe trade in cooperation with governments and international organizations; the AEO certification (Authorised Economic Operator before the DIAN) for the export process; and the ISO 14001 certification in Environmental Management. 


Did you know?

At the beginning of this year, we obtained the accreditation NTC-ISO/IEC 17025:2017 for the Determination of Cadmium content and the Detection of Salmonella SPP in Cocoa and Chocolate products by ONAC (National Accreditation Organisation of Colombia) with which we can demonstrate that our products have the quality and safety expected according to the requirements of international markets.

Our laboratory ensures that each chocolate bar, bonbon or any other product that leaves our facilities meets the established quality standards and provides a unique sensory experience to consumers. Thus, the Luker laboratory certifications become a seal of guarantee and confidence for all those who enjoy the exquisite chocolates offered by our company.

At Luker, we uphold excellence and ensure top-notch quality at every production stage. We carefully select cocoa beans and implement strict quality controls to deliver exceptional products consistently. Chocolate manufacturers can rely on Luker Chocolate as a valuable partner for quality control, where customer satisfaction and excellence are our top priorities.