I recently purchased a chocolate melter from TCF sales. I am currently using Mercken's compound melts in this melter.
We are extremely happy with the increased productivity, but our health inspector expressed concern at the contents sitting at 100 degrees being in the "danger zone". I always understood this to apply to raw or cooked temperature sensitive foods (meats, eggs, etc). I always understood chocolate and compounds were not TSF (temperature sensitive food) by point of food safety. I have never seen chocolate or compounds to be a concern for bacterial growth as long as the product is not contaminated by another substance.
When we use this melter, a sanitized dipper is used to scoop compound out. The compoud is NEVER introduced back to the melter once it has been used, and only sanitized utensils over touch the melted chocolate. It is completely cleaned every-other day by washing the containers and replacing with fresh compound.
My concern is that my inspector is not familiar with confectionery as opposed to restaurant food safety requirements. We don't use food borne illness prone meats and other bacteria-prone agents. Unfortunately, I cannot find ANY documentation -- not even from ADM Cocoa (the maker of Mercken's) -- that will explicitly state that compound is not conducive to bacterial growth at 100 degrees consistent melted temperature; nor anything stating the contrary.
Does anyone happen to have expertise in this area that could help me locate any sort of back up that says what I'm doing is the right way? I know they wouldn't be able to sell these melters for commercial use if it were really true that storing chocolate or compound at 100 degrees for 4+ hours causes bacteria and food borne illness! I need something in writing though :-( Any direction would be wonderful!
This is a case of the food inspectors not knowing much (or anything) about chocolate (or compound).
There is no water in chocolate so there is nothing for bacteria/yeast/molds/spores to grow in.
You can leave a bar of chocolate out "in the danger zone" for months or years and nothing will grow on it (or in it), unless it gets wet. Cross contamination is really only an issue if you introduce something with water in it - dairy ingredients for example. You always want to make sure to keep things clean, including your hands, but most importantly you want to keep everything that comes in contact with the chocolate/compound dry.
That said, you are right. There is no easily accessible documentation from a source that a health inspector would believe was an authority. (However, this discussion is up in Google search results in about 3 hours.)
However, keeping chocolate and compound in melters all day long is standard for the business. It's done everywhere, all day long.
Maybe Sebastian has some documentation that would address this issue?
Loads of documentation out there on the role of water activity and food safety - do a google search for water activity chart, for example, and you'll get a handy printable wallet card you can give your friendly food inspector. water activity (Aw) isn't a measure of how much water is present - it's a measure of how much water is *available*. For chocolate/compounds, they're essentially the same thing. Your typical coating will have an Aw of approx 0.2-0.3 - which is 2-3x lower than is required to support the most basic forms of microbioogical growth (the minimum Aw required to support growth is slightly above 0.6 Aw)
If you're talking something like milk, sauces, soups, etc - things that are mostly water - 100F is where mesophilic bacteria love to play - likely your food inspector is looking at it through the lens of the buffet line at your local old country buffet - where if you leave almost anything there at 100F for very long, you're likely to get very sick. since there's only tenth's of a percent of water in compound, and any of the water that's there isn't available to support growth anyway (ie it's either in the form of water of crystallization, surface monolayers adsorbed to milk/sugars, etc), there's absolutely zero risk of micro growth. as long as you're not adding anything with moisture into it. Your supplier can give you the exact Aw, moisture content, and ingredient label that you can then give to your inspector to prove there's no risk.
EDITED to note that frequently washing your chocolate melters can actually INCREASE the risk of microbiological contamination. if seems many cases where post washing, equipment has not been dried properly - and that'll lead to problems. certainly not saying you shouldn't be washing your equipment, but many folks overwash or wash improperly and unintentionally increase their risk exposure. Large scale enrobers NEVER get water washed. Water is quite often the enemy in a chocolate plant.
Clay and Sebastian are both spot on with their individual points. I JUST dealt with that same issue with my regional health inspector when I opened my third location. He was young and unaware. I found it very annoying that he has the power to refuse food permits, revoke permits, and essentially close a business down, and the ignorance to do it without justification. I voiced that concern of his incompetence in a fashion one could well imagine, having read some of my posts on this forum in the past.
If your health inspector causes you flack, ask for his supervisor's name, so you can discuss with them how it is that one of his inspectors can visit a business having no understanding of pathogen contamination of food in the establishments they are inspecting.
I got the permit without further issue and opened that day.
I had a similar issue with our health department, but it turned out very well. I was asking about chocolate covered bacon (I had several customers asking for it), and the answer I received was very informative. Like Clay and Sebastian said, it's all about the AVAILABLE water, or water activity. The inspector just had me make up a few samples for them, and they took em to conduct testing on them. A week later, I had results (all of the samples were under the .85 that the health department requires here, but some were just not crisp enough to work well in chocolate) and had em on the shelves that day.
I feel for you that your inspector wasn't as knowledgeable as he should be on the subject. :(
That knowledge gap can work both ways - in most places, working with bacon in a confectionery capacity will require you to have extra meat licenses - most inspectors don't know that... so it's a double edged sword 8-)
I was talking through this with a ChocolateLife member who makes a bacon bar and his understanding - as it was explained to heim by federal inspectors - was that as long as the percentage of bacon was below a certain level then getting a USDA meat license is not a requirement.
He is on his way to becoming what he says is the first small-scale chocolate and confectionery producer to be USDA licensed.
That's how my inspectors described it to me. Since the chocolate outweighed the bacon, I didn't need to get any additional certifications...
It DID, however, take about 3 weeks of emails back and forth between me, Dept. Of Ag, and Dept. Of Health! Worth the hassle, IMO. I just need to get a vacuum-sealer to improve the shelf-life of the bacon (after about 10 days, it gets too stale to keep in boxes).
On the subject of bacon and chocolate, check out this enterprising entrepreneur! http://www.thestickypig.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=1823
2% is the threshold.
Here in Canada, the CFIA requires the bacon to be double cured before useable in chocolate. I know of a couple of shops that have had to pull their "bacon bars" off the shelves as a result.
I would like to thank each of you for your thorough and candid responses. You confirmed the information I already knew to be the case -- but given that I am not a chemist or food scientist by nature, I don't speak to something as fact unless (like the health dept) I have indisputable documented evidence. You have given me all of the information I need to speak to this with my inspector in complete confidence.
I should note that thus far I have not received a written violation but a concern raised. She is coming back to review her findings with me and want to be sure I am covered since the concern was expressed. I am disappointed that I find myself in the position of educating my heath dept resources more often than being educated by them in this aspect; however, confectioner's are very very few and far between in my area. I am certain to be the only candy production she's ever been responsible for. I just wish it were more of a joint effort to investigate and educate together as opposed to the "guity until proven innocent" I've been receiving. Sadly, this appears to be the common nature of the beast.
It is my strong opinion that there is a great deal of "nit picking" occuring. I am in my chamber of commerce and some other FSO operators have made the same mention of my individual inspector. Others have said she is a breeze and very easy to deal with. The differences seem to be mom & pop shops versus corporate owned places. Most inspections take 10-15 minutes, while mine and the others who have complained have her company for an hour or more per inspection. I watch the restaurant shows, I know what's out there. Believe me, I am quite certain there are more than a few FSO owners that are very lax in their food safety. My team is NOT one of them. It is run by myself, my husband, and 2 employees who have all been certified in safe food handling. Our life savings is in this place; our livelihoods are on the line. We are well aware of the consequences to just one single food safety incident -- we would lose everything!! We show remarkable diligence, above and beyond what most other places have done according to my conversations with other owners. And yet there is still the constant "picking" of things that do not affect actual safety of food or product, and infrastructure that was in place as-is for YEARS before we took occupancy (years of which SHE was the very inspector that passed those items previously -- like hot and cold water taps being on opposite sides of 1 hand sink, yet still clearly labeled in text and color).
I find myself constantly searching google for validation on items of concern such as the chocolate and having to prove that I am following the rules. My state refuses to publish clear commercial kitchen requirements and rules as well, so each inspector is given the authority to interpret the code as they see fit. The "code" is never enforced in the same manner from one location to another. In my opinion this gives a distinct competetive advantage of one business over another and should be illegal, but my expression of concern over that went unaddressed.
Anyway, I greatly appreciate each of you for your information and insight. The forum has been a godsend for us as we started up and continue our journey of growth!
I feel for you. The harsh reality is that what you "know" to exist in other places can't be proven.
What CAN be proven however is that your inspector is incompetent, given that she's questioning the items you mentioned. What can ALSO be proven is that you are genuinely concerned as a small business owner, that her incompetence could affect your livelihood. These are both issues that can and SHOULD be addressed with her direct supervisor. After all, she wouldn't hesitate to write YOU up for a minor violation, now would she? It's ok to demonstrate to her that shit flows both ways, and she's just as accountable for her actions as you are yours.
Will this create an enemy with her? Probably. Someone wise once told me to keep my friends close, and my enemies closer. Do EVERYTHING right, and put controls in place to make sure your staff ALWAYS do everything right. In the long run is it bad that you have the "Health Nazi" looking over your shoulder? Probably not. After all, killing customers is uncool. It makes her job easy, and your case beyond reproach when complaining to her management. It's perfectly ok to squak if you are following the rules to a T.
Oh... another tidbit for you: If you use chlorine bleach spray as a sanitizer, you will most likely be written up if you use the kind for home use. Our limit for chlorine is 200ppm, (about one cap of regular bleach per spray bottle), whereas the home disinfectant sprays (such as Fantastic) practically eat the test strip once it's sprayed on. My Inglewood shop was written up for using TOO MUCH sanitizer! HAHA! Sorry Mr. Inspector. We were a little too anal! Jerk!
My suspicion is that they're trying to control the formation of nitrosodimethylamines, which are by products of the marriage of chlorine + proteins, and are pretty genotoxic at low levels. Now, your inspector probably doesn't know that, he's just been given a form that he needs to check off. Your average inspector is going to take the most risk-adverse road available, and probably doesn't understand much of the 'whys' behind what they're doing. Could be a good opportunity to bring them along for the ride to build the relationship a bit, raise the bar, and create a win/win for everyone 8-)
Chlorox is an interesting example of a grandfathered product. if invented today, it'd likely not be allowed on the shelves 8-)