Americans on the whole are actively moving towards a more health-conscious lifestyle. There is a much stronger focus on eating organic, all-natural foods but there is still a lot of room for deviation. And with Halloween right around the corner, there is no better time to see this in full effect.
The candy industry is huge. Massive. A behemoth if you consider the price point. Total candy sales in 2014 were over $6.6 billion. In 2013, US Halloween candy sales alone topped $217 million. That was up 12% in year-to-year comparisons.
Candy is big business, but it’s also fairly complex and vulnerable to outside elements. The production and storage of candy is a lot less like Willy Wonka has led many to believe (plus the FDA would have a field day with all the food safety violations, particularly the chocolate river).
Source: NY Daily News
Hard candies and chocolates are highly hygroscopic, meaning they easily absorb and retain water molecules. When humidity is high, candies will absorb moisture and become sticky, which can cause issues with the packaging machinery and wrapping material, slowing the overall process and creating sanitary problems. Microbiological safety is critical as well since many candies and chocolates often contain nuts and milk. Raw nuts may contain pathogens, so products must be processed and stored to prevent this. Milk may contain Listeria, making it critical to avoid moisture and condensation
In 2014 there was a major Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to caramel coated apples from a California supplier; thirty-five people were hospitalized and at least three of seven deaths were attributed to the outbreak.
Source: Consumer Media LLC
It’s no wonder Food Safety Tech raises concerns about Halloween treats this year. Author Maria Fonatnazza’s piece Listeria Puts a Spook in Halloween reports that “concerns over Listeria in caramel apples are back in the media.” The piece reports that food chain Kroger is removing unrefrigerated caramel apples from its store shelves following publication of a study by the American Society of Microbiology. The study found that “insertion of a stick accelerates the transfer of juice from the interior of the apple to its surface, creating a microenvironment at the apple-caramel interface where L. monocytogenes can rapidly grow to levels sufficient to cause disease when stored at room temperature”. Even though the chance of contamination may be minimal, Kroger is erring on the side of caution.
Importantly, the study cited a higher likelihood of Listeria growth on the apples when at room temperature versus under refrigeration. So what is a grocer to do? Grocery stores have control over products in their facilities, so keeping caramel apples refrigerated can be managed. But what about the producer or distributor channel? Are the caramel apples exposed to room temperatures or higher during storage or transport, a condition likely to encourage microorganism growth? How can a grocer know?
Humidity and high temperature can be a death sentence (literally) for candy manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Controlling storage and transportation temperatures can help minimize the impact of harmful pathogens. Monitoring temperatures in real-time throughout the cold chain can help prevent problems and even head off product damage or loss, a good thing for both the industry and consumer.
The chart below highlights the optimal temperature & humidity conditions for candy processing:
Source: Bry Air
Once produced, candy needs to be transported and stored at ideal conditions as well. The below chart highlights the idea temperature and humidity condition to maintain candies for maximum shelf life, and keep them foodborne illness-free:
Source: Bry Air
Beyond keeping products free from potential pathogens like listeria, the benefits of properly monitoring and maintaining these ideal temperatures and humidity levels include:
- Candies remain firm ensuring its original shape and reducing its likelihood of sticking to the wrapping
- Minimal loss of color, aroma and flavor
- Insects are rendered inactive at temperatures of 9°C or lower
- Reduced tendency to become stale or rancid
- Allows candies to be manufactured year-round and accumulated for periods of heavy sales
Cold food storage warehouse equipped with cellular gateway and wireless sensors. Refitting older warehouses or new builds is easy with cellular gateway
There are many tools available to measure both temperature and humidity levels, including Temperature@lert’s WiFi and Cellular systems, which provide round-the-clock monitoring and real-time alerts if sensor readings rise or fall outside of an acceptable range. Forward-looking warehouse and distribution companies are relying on wireless temperature sensors to insure cold chain integrity from production to retailer. Placing battery powered wireless sensors in product pallets both in the warehouse and transport will allow the retailer to examine cold chain temperatures when the products arrive. Wireless sensors that communicate to readers at the retailer can speed up the data collection and reporting process and potentially head off receiving product that sat at elevated temperatures.
Remember: no one cried over spilt milk, but they will cry over spoiled candy.