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Is your milk chocolate the genuine article?

Milk chocolate is a favourite in the holiday season, and thanks to a new measurement method developed by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), consumers in Europe will be sure of what they are getting. This is a serious matter for a continent which accounts fo...

Milk chocolate is a favourite in the holiday season, and thanks to a new measurement method developed by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), consumers in Europe will be sure of what they are getting. This is a serious matter for a continent which accounts for up to half of the annual consumption of chocolate worldwide. The method has been accepted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), making it an international standard. The standard has been developed to enable the enforcement of the so-called 'Chocolate Directive' (Directive 2000/36/EC), which defines the key elements of products which can be legally sold as 'chocolate'. Negotiating the Directive was time-consuming and difficult, partly because of different definitions of chocolate in countries with widely varying recipes and ingredients such as milk. Prior to the development of the JRC measurement, no validated methodology existed to check whether manufacturers were correctly reporting the amount of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter in milk chocolate. The chemical composition and physical properties of the fats and butter are very close, making them extremely difficult to quantify or even detect. This left the door open for potential disputes and uncertainty as to whether or not milk chocolate products could actually be listed as 'milk chocolate' on packaging. The Chocolate Directive allows the addition of up to 5% of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter in chocolate products. When these fats are added to chocolate, laws require that consumers be informed by appropriate labelling of the product. This can affect product sales, since consumers are more likely to buy a product described and marketed as 'milk chocolate' than something using an alternative description. The 5% level is also an essential requirement for milk chocolate products to move freely within the internal European market. Scientists at the JRC have been working on the problem since the entry into force of the Chocolate Directive in 2003, in close contact with the European Commission's Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development. The JRC submitted its milk chocolate testing methods to the ISO in 2007. After a two-year independent peer review process, the method has been adopted as standard ISO 11053:2009. To help analytical chemists implement the testing methods for chocolate products, the JRC's Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) has also developed a set of so-called toolboxes. These include the method descriptions, electronic evaluation sheets, and links to the appropriate cocoa butter reference materials. Two other JRC methods to determine foreign fats in dark chocolate were previously adopted as international standards in 2007. This new method for milk chocolate took longer to develop because of the increased complexity of the measurement, as the milk fats in milk chocolate interfere with vegetable fats. 'The adoption of the JRC's testing method at international level confirms the EU's leading role in the worldwide fight against food fraud,' said Krzysztof Maruszewski, director of the IRMM.

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