FDA Safety Chocolate Handling

The Complex Notes of Chocolate Handling

By: Graeme Murphy, VP Strategy & Business Development

What are the challenges of transporting liquid chocolate?

You may not think about it while eating your next chocolate-covered bonbon, but the liquid chocolate that makes a treat, well, a treat had a very long and challenging journey as it found its way to you.

Liquid chocolate solidifies when cool, burns easily if too hot and, because it’s meant for human consumption, requires safeguards that ensure continuous hygienic conditions.

The (Very Fine) Line Between Edible and Inedible

45 degrees Celsius. That’s around 113 degrees Fahrenheit. And it’s the ideal temperature at which to handle liquid chocolate. If it drops just two degrees, it starts to solidify. And if it gets a few degrees warmer, it begins to burn.

That limited tolerance can make transporting and transferring liquid chocolate particularly challenging. There are many steps, then, that companies must take in order to ensure the product’s integrity.

For example, when you’re transferring the liquid, the loading arm that’s moving the product from tank to tank must be able to maintain those constant temperatures. That’s done, in part, by controlling the temperature of the arm itself, a process that involves adding either steam jacketing or electrical trace heating and insulated cladding to the arm. However, the only way to actually have visibility into the temperature of the liquid at this stage is to have temperature sensors — at the elbows and swivel joints — hard-wired to a Programmable Logic Control (PLC) system. These sensors are then linked to the plant automation system. It’s a holistic approach that treats the product like the liquid gold it is.

More Properties, More Risks

Temperature isn’t the only property that has to be carefully monitored and regulated. When transferring liquid chocolate, its flow rate needs to be closely controlled, because if the rate is too high, the constituent parts of the substance will separate (same as whisking too hard when prepping a chocolate cake). Seals must also be pressurized to keep airborne bacteria out.

Additionally, any chocolate left in the arm after loading — even in a clean environment — will solidify as the arm cools down. It’s imperative that the arm not be moved in this condition; it first needs to be heated to the desired operating temperature before cleaning. If not, the solidified chocolate will almost certainly damage the swivel seals.

Keep it Clean

It’s very likely that your application will require that the loading arm incorporate the CIP (clean-in-place) method of cleaning — a strategy that helps further limit the product’s risk of contamination. With a CIP-designed system, your loading arm and coupler will need to be connected to the truck hygienically.

Once you’ve completed your loading, the CIP method involves cleaning the arm internally, eliminating any residue from inside the arm. Stainless steel, micro-finished surfaces, special FDA-approved, food-grade seal material and a CIP coupler work in concert to prevent bacteria traps.

But Wait, There’s More

On top of all of that, the transporting and handling of chocolate is governed by myriad laws and regulations — and is, consequently, subject to myriad fines. In the US, businesses must generally adhere to the FDA’s Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, part of the larger Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Within the UK, it’s the Food Safety Act of 1990, and, in the EU, the General Food Law Regulation helps guide businesses.

To be certain, there are additional laws that apply to companies transporting and transferring chocolate and, as we learn more about foodborne illnesses, new regulations surely will follow. But staying knowledgeable and proactive will go a long way toward maintaining compliance no matter where you reside.

If it wasn’t apparent before, it should be now: there’s nothing simple about loading or transferring liquid chocolate.

Maybe you’re a cookie manufacturer that handles a lot of liquid chocolate. Maybe you deal with other edible liquids, as well. Regardless, if you’re building a new system or troubleshooting an existing one, and you don’t want to find yourself in the crosshairs of the FDA, your local food authorities or an angry customer, you need a professional, experienced partner to help ensure the proper handling of liquid chocolate.

Learn more about how SafeRack helps eliminate downtime and contamination. Read more about our loading arms systems, or call us today.