What will 2021 Bring?

2021 written on paving with two arrows facing forward. Two shoes are lined up ready to enter into 2021.
What direction will 2021 take you. Image from Pixabay.

Well we’ve certainly had an interesting start to 2021! I hope that everyone is safe and has some interesting plans for 2021 that don’t include the loss of American democracy! I know I want a different 2021 than I had in 2020. I would love some new adventures, hopefully! I definitely want to visit my family, my friends and, you, my clients.

I am watching the news about COVID-19 and vaccination with cautious optimism. Cautious because who knows how many months it will be before most of us can be vaccinated and so I am wearing my mask and social distancing when I am outside and washing my damn hands all the time. I am hopeful and grateful that the pandemic might be over towards to end of 2021.

Chocolate Tasting

Squares of dark chocolate
Squares of dark chocolate. Image from Pixabay.

I bought lots of dark chocolate, my excuse being that I needed to try them to see if they would work for the triple chocolate buckwheat cookies I was baking. I ended up making the cookies with a little bit of each chocolate and they taste GREAT! I still have chocolate left over so I decided to do a tasting to find out which was my favorite chocolate. I thought you might want to join in! After all what could be better than an excuse to eat chocolate. And mine are all 70% or more cocoa so they are apparently all healthy for me too!

Food Exploring and Tasting 

What you will need to do your own tasting (if you can’t eat chocolate, you could use anything to join in. I initially did this style of food tasting as a FoodCorps member using Triscuits):

  1. Several types (at least two) of dark chocolate or food of your choice
  2. Water for rinsing
  3. Apple slices as a palate refresher
  4. Plain saltine cracker as taste remover
  5. Paper plates or parchment paper or foil to put the samples on
  6. Secret codes to identify the sample (random numbers work great) (This is hard if you live alone like me)
  7. Pen and paper for notes and my handy dandy food tasting table (see below)
five packages from chocolate, showing the five varieties I used.
I used a mixed variety for dark chocolate from 70-88% cocoa. Image by CDavies

Set up

  1. On one plate per person divide plate (or parchment paper or foil) into the number of samples you have
  2. Write the secret codes on the outer edge
  3. Make sure chocolate has been at room temperature for 30 mins and not near a heat source!
  4. Break the chocolate into small pieces, try to keep at least two squares together if you can
  5. Place apples and crackers on to another plate
  6. Each taster should get a plate of chocolate to taste, a plate with apple slices and crackers and glass of water.
My set up for chocolate tasting with chocolates on parchment paper labeled with numbers, a glass of water and a plate with saltine crackers.
Tasting set up. Image by CDavies


We are going to use our senses to explore the chocolate. The first sense we use is our sight, so we will look at the chocolate, then we will smell, touch, feel, hear, taste the chocolate. How do we hear chocolate? More on that in a moment…

The important thing here is not to think about whether you “like” or “dislike” what you are tasting. We are exploring, not judging. And if there are several of you doing this together; don’t share your results until the end. Don’t, as food scientists say “Yuck someone else’s Yum”. If you think you might not like something, cut it up very small – less than ½ inch cubes are good – and then exploring it using your senses. Perhaps tasting it as a food explorer will make the food more interesting to taste.

For our chocolate tasting work your way through the following. After you’ve tasted one type of chocolate, eat some apple slices or a cracker and move onto the next. Feel free to drink water whenever you need it.


Dark chocolate is dark brown! What else can we see when we look at our chocolate?

  • What particular dark brown is your chocolate? Are they all the SAME dark brown?
  • Is the chocolate shiny or glossy? Perhaps it is not shiny at all, we call that matt.
  • Does it have a white bloom on it? This is common in chocolate that might have been stored at varying temperatures. It is fine to eat chocolate with bloom; it is the cocoa butter coming to the surface.
  • What shape is your chocolate? Is it square or rectangular? Or perhaps it is round like coins?
  • What else do you notice about your chocolate?
This chocolate is shiny on the front and had a layer of white over the back. This didn't affect the flavor at all.
This chocolate had a glossy front and a matt back with a thin layer of bloom. It tasted fine. Image by CDavies

Touch and Sound 1

Just stroke your chocolate and notice what it feels like. Pick it up and notice how it feels. Now snap the squares apart. Was it easy to snap? 

Did it make a clean snap sound or did it sound a bit floppy? We judge a lot of food from the sound they make when we break them.

Smell 1

Chocolate doesn’t have much of a smell until it melts. Try living near a chocolate factory sometime – it smells delicious. However, hold a piece up to your nose and see if you notice any smells. Does it smell fruity or nutty? Or perhaps it brings back a memory of another time you ate chocolate? 

Texture and sound 2

Our teeth tell us a lot about the food we eat. Bite down on a piece of chocolate with your front teeth. Is it hard or soft? What sound do you hear when you make that bite or when you chew on a square of chocolate? What else do you notice about the chocolate? Is it gritty or smooth? Does it stick to your mouth. You will notice more texture if you let it melt on your tongue.

Try it! Take a piece of chocolate and let it melt on your tongue. What do you notice about the aroma of the chocolate now?

We notice more aromas in the chocolate when we let the chocolate melt in our mouths. This is because the aromas are bound up in the cocoa butter and are released into our nasal passages at the back of the mouth. This way of sensing aroma is known as retronasal. Orthonasal is when we smell directly from our noses. 


We taste food in our mouths. We notice if food is sweet, salty, bitter, acidic and/or sour. We also notice if food is spicy and we notice it’s temperature. Some of us are better tasting some tastes than others. We are supertasters. What do you notice about the chocolate? Is it sour? Perhaps it is bitter – it is dark chocolate after all. 

It is important NOT to get influenced by my suggestions here. Remember I don’t know what chocolate you are eating and I might be more sensitive to bitter tastes than you are.


Flavor is a mixture of taste and smell. Our other senses also influence how we perceive the flavor of something too. Imagine eating a raw carrot that doesn’t make any sound? Do you think you could eat a fresh raw carrot without sound? If it didn’t make any sound what would you think? 

Check back here on my blog and on my Food Crumb to see what I find when I analyze my chocolates. I am going to test them over several days because I want to enjoy them too. Too many tasting sessions at once will mean that I will forget the differences between them. 

Score from 1 (low) to 5 (high) 
For example:
Matt = 1; Glossy/shiny = 5
Force need to snap with hands
Sound of snap
Smell orthonasal
(from the nose)
Force needed for bite
Texture on melting on tongue
Retronasal smell
(within the mouth)
Overall Flavor
Handy Dandy Chocolate Tasting Table

Please share in the comments your experience of being a food explorer. What did you do differently? What did you learn about your food while exploring? 

Food Allergen Program

Eight main food allergens. Image from FDA

Allergens are only dangerous to the person sensitive to the allergen and then the allergen can be deadly. Fortunately we know enough about allergies, people’s responses and how to deal with them that given care, allergy sufferers may avoid their trigger and live happy, healthy, and long lives.

There are many allergens, the FDA lists eight food allergens and mentions that there are 160 foods that have caused an allergic response in sensitive individuals and that is not including those of us who have non allergic sensitivity responses, such as my response to alcoholic beverages. There is some confusion as to how to define a food allergen as sometimes a protein isn’t present and an apparent allergic response happens. Sulfite for example, can cause people to have asthma attacks and it is not a protein. Typically a food allergen causes the histamine response as discussed here.

As a food manufacturers we must do our part to protect consumers. A first step is to know which of our ingredients may cause an allergic response in sensitive consumers. This may be a minor component of an ingredient. Milk, for example, may be present in chocolate chips. This allergen must then be listed on the label for consumers to see. To ensure this happens correctly, requires that we have a standard operating procedure (SOP) to make sure that the right product goes in the right packaging. You don’t want to end up like Frito-Lay with Cheddar Cheese and Sour Cream Ruffles in Original Ruffles bags. This is misbranding and shall lead to a recall and loss of consumer trust; both of which could put a small food business out of business. 

As well as labeling, you also need to have Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and SOPS for managing allergens in your facility. This will make sure that you don’t accidentally have cross contact between a food containing an allergen and one that doesn’t. For example, this includes the cleaning and sanitation of your equipment and utensils thoroughly. 

When storing allergens, ensure that allergens, and ingredients containing allergens, are stored below other ingredients. One way to do this is to clearly label your ingredients on arrival with different colored stickers for each allergen type as this clearly shows what is in each package or on each pallet.

Shows how different colored stickers can be sued to represent different allergens
Allergens can be represented by stickers on ingredient packaging. (a) Write a letter code in the middle of the sticker to represent which tree nut, shellfish or fish. For example W= walnut

When ordering supplies, check that your ingredients or packaging haven’t changed. My experience has been that very occasionally suppliers will change how they make something which may lead to problems if you are caught unawares. 

Make sure your co-workers, sanitation team, pest control contractor and others commonly in your facility understand your allergen policy. If you are making a food that is free from an allergen, it is probably worth banning that ingredient from your facility. Schools, for example, do not allow peanuts in the school.

There are a lot of little ways to support your consumers with food allergies. The best way to ensure consumer safety is to work directly with me to create a comprehensive allergen policy that brings all these pieces together. Book a call today so we can get the process started.

Food Safety Mid Atlantic. This image explains that I offer food safety services.

FAO Reports Discuss 2020 Food and Agriculture

What people eat, and how that food is produced, not only affects their health, but also has major ramifications for the state of the environment and for climate change.

FAO 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition

The truth of this quote was apparent when reading both of the FAO’s 2020 reports on the state of the food system. 

Access to Water

Field with overhead irrigation. Not an option for many farmers.
Irrigation is not an option for many farmers. Image from Pixabay.

HARM Part 4: Hurdle Technology

I have written three articles about how we can use food processing to make our food safer and I call these the HARM series because Heat, Acid and Reduced Moisture are the main ways we can reduce the risk of foodborne illness. There are other ways, such as adding preservatives, high pressure processing, or specialized packaging which require specialized equipment or food science knowledge and typically are not what I would suggest first to my clients. 

HARM Part 3! Reduced Moisture

In my last blog post I discussed the safety of fruit and vegetables and the importance of acidity in their food safety. I referred back to “A” post of my HARM series. I realized that I never finished the series as there is no “RM” post. The pandemic obviously affected more than my ability to visit my clients.

Reducing the moisture content or lowering how much water is present is, along with heating and adding acid, another way of extending the shelf life of food products and preventing foodborne illness. 

A line of jams in bottles. Hot fill requires the food to be hot when put in the hot jars.
Jams have lots of sugar which reduces the available moisture content. Image from Pixabay.

Bacteria and other microbes need water to survive just like we do. Reducing your moisture content can make your food safer and extend its shelf life.

One way to reduce the moisture content is dehydration. However, I personally don’t want all my food to be like packaged camp food. The good news is that we don’t have to! We do not have to completely dehydrate a food product to stop microorganisms from growing in it.

How do we know how much to reduce the moisture content to stop microorganisms?

Safety of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Once you have harvested your produce, how you handle them can reduce bacterial pathogens. Image from Pixabay

In the last month there have been two state recalls or outbreaks around juices. The first was juice not being processed adequately to destroy Clostridium botulinum or its toxin and the second was an outbreak of Salmonella in Minnesota originating at a raw juice bar. When discussing this with my friends who are not food scientists, [yes, I have a few non food sciencey friends] I discovered that they weren’t aware that fruit and vegetables have natural bacteria and other microorganisms present on their surfaces. These microbes could cause foodborne illness.

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

We end up with piles of paperwork if we don't do quality control properly
Piles of paperwork do not have to be the result of a good QA/QC program. Image from Pixabay.

The next step after deciding your product specifications is to ensure that your products leaving your facility ALWAYS meet your specifications. Large food manufacturers have Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) Departments who carry out this role. They are often combined into one QA/QC division which carries out both functions of preventing defects and taking action when a defect occurs.

Quality Assurance prevents defects by organizing a system of checks, tests, and audits. These ensure that quality standards are defined and that basic food productions principles, as described in GMPs, are followed. Thus, QA includes the GMPS, SOPS, SSOPS, ingredient and product specifications, food safety and HACCP plans. 

Food thermometer in orange juice.
Measuring temperature is an important quality control step. Image by Cathy Davies

Quality Control is the monitoring procedures that verify and validate that the processes and procedures described by Quality Assurance are followed. Quality Control is the thermometer to check production temperature, the test strip to check sanitizer concentration, the microbial tests to check food is pathogen free. This monitoring and record keeping is also a legal requirement and can be used to update QA practices when failures are common.

Both QA and QC can be used to train employees to improve the safety and quality of the products they are responsible for making. The final decision for whether a product is sent to a customer should be made by the QA/QC manager. Legally, business owners and CEOs are responsible for the safety of the products leaving the facility. Most often they rely on their QA/QC department to do their jobs professionally and reliably. 

Small food business, with few coworkers, may struggle to carry out QA-QC responsibilities as they seem like an additional chore. However, QA/QC can improve and tighten up the quality of your food products as, over time, you see where defects commonly occur. Additionally, this responsibility can be shared. Hiring a full time QA/QC manager can be expensive especially one who has the experience to have the experience, personal authority, and confidence to say “This product cannot be shipped”. A solution to this is a part-time consultant, who has the experience and authority but costs less than hiring a full-time co-worker. Interested? Book a call now!

Definition of Food Quality

Some white, mostly black peppercorns. What is your ingredient specification?
How many white peppercorns is acceptable for a high quality black pepper? Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Last week I came up with my definition for food safety. Did you agree? I realized that I also needed a definition for food quality. Food quality is pretty vague as it depends on so many different factors. We quite often link food quality and food safety because a food containing hazards isn’t of a high quality.

As food processors and food manufacturers, the most important quality specification is based on our consumer’s needs and desires. Consumers may base their idea of a high quality food on many different factors. Price or good value for money is probably the most important, even though a lot of us won’t admit that openly. As consumers, we may also be concerned about how the food product was made and whether it is organic or has certain health attributes.