Engineers flag up processing, traceability methods to lower chocolate recalls

By Helen Glaberson

- Last updated on GMT

Recalls of chocolate products could be significantly lower if there was more rigorous traceability in the chocolate supply chain and if brand owners adopted processing techniques that relied on reduced batch dispersion, find a new study.

The authors of research published in Food Control​ said their findings indicate chocolate brand owners could achieve a reduction of the magnitude of a recall in case of contamination of the raw material of 55 or 99 per cent through greater transparency at the sourcing stage.

They also concluded that adopting a chocolate production strategy based on low batch dispersion, where the chocolate manufacturer avoids mixing different batches of cocoa beans, would help lead to reduced exposure to contamination and subsequent product recalls.

There is a trade off though in terms of adopting this method as it would negatively impact production efficiency, caution the researchers, who are based in the Department of Management Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark.

“When deciding whether adopting a new production strategy would be beneficial, the probability that a product recall occurs must be assessed and included in the decision-making process,”​ add the researchers, citing the additional costs incurred organizing a recall, bad publicity and damage to the reputation of the brand.

The research was based on simulation models and interviews with key staff at two chocolate manufacturers and a cocoa trading company.

Methods

A simulation model was designed to simulate the chocolate production system for two different production strategies, one based on production efficiency (PS1) and one based on reduced batch dispersion (PS2).

In PS1, said the engineers, the maximum processing batch size is always used so that the equipment in the production stage is always used at full capacity. Mixed batches of cocoa beans are use in the method.

PS2, they explained, focuses on reducing batch dispersion, where the chocolate manufacturer avoids mixing the different batches, but it can result in processing batches that are smaller in size. “As batch processes are involved, this [system] results in some partially unutilized processes in the chocolate production line, with a corresponding reduction in production efficiency,”​ said the authors.

The engineers found that adopting a production strategy based on a low batch dispersion strategy would lead to a reduction of potential product recall sizes between 0.5 and 4 per cent in case of contamination of the raw materials and between 6 and 16 per cent in case of contamination of a processing batch size.

But they stress that this approach (PS2) would also lead to a reduction of the overall production efficiency between 7 and 22 per cent.

Traceability systems

Currently no full traceability is in use in the supply chain of chocolate, report the researchers. While there is full traceability within the European borders, this is lost when part of the supply chain goes outside these borders, they note.

In order to analyse the impact of traceability improvements on the consequences of a safety crisis, the engineers simulated recalls and developed a spreadsheet simulation model.

This scheme was based on a series of parameters that are classified as constant parameters that remain unchanged (C), to those that can actively be changed in the mode (P) or uncertain to unknown parameters (U).

The simulation model also included a basic traceability system (TS0) and two improved traceability systems (TS+ and TS++).

The basic system involved a “one step back-one step forward approach”​ where the finished chocolate product is traceable from the supermarket, to the chocolate manufacturer and the cocoa exporter.

One of the other systems TS+ is an extension of TSO where the local buying stations mark all cocoa bags with a unique code and the buying date. These codes are then registered so that the finished chocolate can be traced back to the local buying station.

TS++ extends from TS+ in that the cocoa farmers, when packing the cocoa beans, mark all bags with unique codes and date. In this case the finished chocolate is traceable up to the individual cocoa farmer.

With such traceability systems, the identification of causes could be faster, market withdrawals and/or recalls of the involved products could be reduced in size, and total costs of the crises could be decreased, claim the researchers.

Source: Food Control
Published online ahead of print: DOI: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2011.07.015
Title: Testing improvements in the chocolate traceability system: Impact on product recalls and production efficiency
Authors: R. Saltini, R. Akkerman

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