In the U.S. alone, spending on Valentine’s Day has surpassed $19 million in each of the last three years, and chocolate is among the biggest-selling sweets. Chocolate sales represent 75 percent or more of Valentine’s Day candy purchases, according to the National Confectioner’s Association.
Few consumers think about the safety of chocolate when they unwrap a gift, but the same cannot be said for manufacturers. They are hypervigilant about product quality and safety, and their processes reflect that focus. Thankfully, cases of an unwanted foreign object reaching consumers are rare, but that’s because manufacturers are invested in ensuring that doesn’t happen.
The box of chocolates displayed at your local confectioner has been thoroughly scrutinized during its journey to the shelf. Once boxes are filled with pre-sorted candies, a conveyor belt carries them through x-ray machines or metal detectors that can identify foreign objects as small as one millimeter. Most make it through without incident, but if a foreign object is detected, the box is swiftly removed from the conveyor for further analysis.
In those rare cases where a foreign object is detected, it’s usually unintentional. Candy manufacturing is hard on equipment, and it’s possible for small fragments of plastic or metal, even stray screws or bolts, to migrate into the finished product. Other potential sources of foreign object contamination can arrive with raw materials from fields or farms. It’s not hard to imagine a tiny stone at the bottom of a container of cocoa beans.
Fortunately, most manufacturers rely on advanced detection technologies to intercept foreign objects. Thermo Fisher, which develops detection instrumentation that helps protect many types of foods for manufacturers around the world, introduced its newest multiscan metal detector in 2017. It uses multiple frequencies to enhance sensitivity: It can identify random sizes, shapes and types of foreign metal objects, even those deep inside a package. The instrument is designed to identify a wider variety of metal contaminants, giving it a significant advantage over older technologies.
Investment in the most advanced technologies is money well spent. News of someone breaking a tooth on metal within a Valentine’s Day chocolate would not be good for the brand, or the retailer, and certainly not the consumer. The best news for all involved is no news at all, except increasing sales.
Few appreciate the lengths to which food manufacturers go to deliver a safe, high-quality product to consumers. Little fanfare goes into the purchase of x-ray or metal detection technologies, but that doesn’t diminish the important role they play. We often take food safety for granted – and manufacturers prefer you do that – but at least one day a year it’s good to remember how invested they are in ensuring Valentine’s Day ends on a sweet note.
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