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Chocolates: should they be refrigerated?

The recent episode when live worms were found in Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate has shown how the seemingly safe food product can become hazardous to health. The excuse that Cadbury’s is putting forth is that the worm infestation has been due to poor storage of chocolates. For years, no attention has been paid to storage and manufacturers have shed all responsibility for chocolate safety by merely stating that chocolates should be stored in a “cool, dry and hygienic place”. But who is going to ensure whether storage conditions are ‘cool’ and ‘hygienic’? What does ‘cool’ and ‘hygienic’ mean, anyway? 

Consumer VOICE columnist, Monika Halan, sent us an interesting query about why and how chocolates tend to acquire a whitish colour when stored in the refrigerator. This question made us look into the proper way in which a chocolate should be stored in homes. In India , where temperatures touch 45 o centigrade (although room temperatures are lower), it is natural to store chocolates in the refrigerator to prevent them from melting, and that is what most consumers do. 

Chocolate labels, however, say something that should actually make us think of putting the chocolate out of the refrigerator. We checked the labels of some popular chocolate brands like Cadbury Dairy Milk, Nestle Kit Kat, Cadbury 5 Star, and Amul. The results were as follows: 

  •   Kit Kat did not have any label information whatsoever on how a chocolate should be stored, 
  •   Dairy Milk advised that the bar should be stored in a “cool, hygienic and dry place”. Now, if a chocolate has to be stored in a dry place, it surely cannot be the refrigerator! The refrigerator has a lot of moisture and no part of the refrigerator can be termed as “dry”. 
  •  Amul chocolates said that the chocolate was “ Best Before 12 months from the date of packaging when stored at +15 o centigrade in a dry place ”. 

Temperature inside the refrigerator hovers at around +5 or +6 degree centigrade, while the room temperatures in Indian summers are around +30 degree centigrade. Thus it is difficult to create an ambient temperature of +15 degrees anywhere. Actually, one can enjoy the real taste of chocolate only during the winter time, when there are less chances of the chocolate having melted, during transit or storage. Surprisingly, neither the government nor the manufacturers seem to have ever thought about this important aspect of food safety. 

Does this mean that a chocolate loses on its shelf life if it is refrigerated, or when put out in the open where temperatures hover around 40 degree centigrade? What are the implications of eating a chocolate which may have lost out on its original taste, flavour and colour? This point is especially important since chocolates are mostly consumed by children. We sent these queries to Cadbury, Nestle, Amul and the Food Standards Agency, U.K. Manufacturers contend that a chocolate which has melted and then solidified due to refrigeration is not injurious for consumption but its original taste and colour is lost.

Why chocolates turn whitish: Cadbury and UK Food Agency respond  

Cadbury responded to the Consumer VOICE query about why chocolates sometimes turn out to be whitish in colour:

“When chocolate is exposed to high temperature or direct sunlight, cocoa butter (an important ingredient of chocolate) melts and oozes out of the surface. If this process happens recurrently the chocolate either becomes brittle and turns to powder or forms a white layer. This chocolate is not injurious to health but it does not taste as it is intended to.”

The Food Standards Agency, U.K., replied with almost the same kind of answer, saying that “the whitish colour which appears when chocolate has been kept in the refrigerator is fat bloom, or sugar bloom, both of which are textural defects that do not effect the safety of the chocolate.” 

“Fat bloom can result from the temperature abuse of chocolate and is usually visible as a dull white film or ‘frosting’ on the surface of the chocolate, possibly with a soft of crumbling texture on the inside. Fat bloom is caused by the migration of fat to the surface of the bar where it re-crystallises.” Nestle India did not respond to our queries.

Remedy: Don’t store chocolates at home!

Chocolates, like soft drinks, are not an essential consumption food item. They are there just to cater to our taste buds and are not a nutritional imperative. The more quantity we have of them at home, the more we are tempted to just reach out for them and eat them. Storing loads of chocolates in homes with children is a sure way of addicting children to junk food.

  • buy the freshest chocolate or cold drink possible.
  • Choose a chocolate bar or a cola bottle which has the latest date of manufacture or packaging.
  • Support a brand which provides the best labelling information and instructions. Buying products and brands with non-informative labelling only encourages erring manufacturers to continue to take consumers for granted.

So many times when we read the list of ingredients of a food product, we come across names of ingredients that we haven’t heard of. Often their impact on health is also not known. Some chocolates list hydrogenated vegetable oil as an ingredient. The current standards of PFA do not allow a ‘chocolate’ to have any vegetable fat other than cocoa butter. But as Consumer VOICE finds out, what you may be having may not be a ‘chocolate’ at all!

While checking the list of ingredients of various brands of chocolates, Consumer VOICE found that Nestle Kit Kat Cadbury Perk and 5 Star declared the presence of ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ in their list of ingredients.

What hydrogenated vegetable oil is :

Hydrogenated vegetable oil is also called ‘hydrogenated fat’. Hydrogenation is the process of turning liquid oil into solid fat. The final product of this process is called hydrogenated fat, or sometimes ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’. It tends to be used in foods such as biscuits, cakes, fast food, pastry and margarine.

During the process of hydrogenation, trans fats are formed. This means that foods that contain hydrogenated fats will also contain trans fats. Trans fats have no known nutritional benefits and because of the effect they have on blood cholesterol, they increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Evidence suggests that the effects of trans fats are worse than saturated fats.

As far as chocolates are concerned, it is interesting how ‘hydrogenated fat’ is called ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’. Is this because the word ‘fat’ gives one the impression of an undesirable ingredient? Perhaps ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ sounds better and more healthy than ‘hydrogenated vegetable fat’.

We asked Cadbury India and Nestle why it was necessary for them to put hydrogenated vegetable fat in some of their brands of chocolates. We didn’t receive any answer from them till the time this article went into print.

PFA does not allow vegetable fat in chocolates!

The Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act does not allow chocolate to contain any vegetable fat other than cocoa butter. Yet, Kit Kat, 5 Star and Perk contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, as is declared on their label. Consumer VOICE also noted that both Kit Kat and Perk have wafers in them, and perhaps the inclusion of wafers has something to do with the substitution of cocoa butter with hydrogenated vegetable fat, in the case of Kit Kat and Perk. Both Kit Kat and Perk are not labelled as a chocolate at all (See “Is a chocolate really a chocolate?), thus allowing them to fall outside of the purview of the PFA definition of a ‘chocolate’, and what a chocolate can contain.

Is a chocolate really a ‘chocolate’?

Consumer VOICE observed the labelling on various chocolate brands closely, and we found that only Dairy Milk and Amul labelled their products as ‘milk chocolate’.

Kit Kat described itself as “crisp wafer fingers covered with chocolayer”, and Perk called itself “milk chocolate coated wafer layers”. 5 Star calls itself a “filled chocolate” but strangely, lists “milk chocolate” as one of the ingredients. What we generally consume, presuming that it is a ‘chocolate’, may not be a chocolate at all! Besides, something like a Perk has very little chocolate content in it anyway. Most of it is wafers with just a thin layer of chocolate on top, which in summers melts away completely, leaving one munching on just the wafer and no chocolate! Thus the per gram chocolate content of Perk is very low, as compared with other chocolates, and it offers comparatively less value for money.

Nutrition information missing

None of the chocolate brands that we surveyed contained any nutritional information or nutrition table on its labelling. This is in stark contrast with normal labelling practices in other countries where one can find nutritional information even on a small pack of chewing gum. Even Kit Kat, when manufactured and sold in other countries, declares nutritional information on its label, but surprisingly, does not disclose the same in its Indian products. Since Indian standards do not make it mandatory for chocolates to declare their nutritional contents, the manufacturers have conveniently side-stepped this process.

Cadbury Worms

In October 2003, just when chocolate sales were hotting up in the Divali season, the Maharashtra FDA detected worm (live and dead) in Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. Bars of the popular Dairy Milk chocolate were seized across Maharashtra . Cadbury has tried to shift the blame to the dealers and attributed the infestation of chocolates with worms to possible storage of chocolates near food grains. The storage of food products and their labelling is, however, a much more complex issue that that. Most of the times, we don’t pay any attention to labelling at all and hardly ever notice if the labelling is inadequate (which is the case more often than not). Manufacturers sit tight over crucial information for as long as they can – till an episode like the Cadbury worms breaks out.

Cadbury, like many other multinationals, does not manufacture all its products itself. The company allows other companies to manufacture its product(s) for it, and focuses on marketing strategies instead. Thus quality standards tend to suffer.

The concept of product recall is not very popular in India . Generally, if a consumer reports a defect in a product, manufacturers often offer to replace the product, or give him a free gift hamper. By doing this, they prevent other people from coming to know of the shortcomings, in which case the entire batch would be recalled from the market. The Mid Day newspaper in Mumbai ( October 7 2003 edition) reported how a metal file was also detected by a consumer in a 5-Star chocolate.

Consumer VOICE

Consumer VOICE

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