Case History: Producing Chocolates That Are Sweet, Safe, Accurate

Feb. 4, 2019
Lake Champlain Chocolates relies on a Mettler-Toledo checkweigher/metal detector combination system for food safety, accurate weights.

Since its start in 1983, Lake Champlain Chocolates has been a champion of the organic and locavore movements. This family-owned processor makes gourmet chocolates by infusing creativity and craftsmanship with the very best ingredients that are non-GMO, fair trade certified and from their home state of Vermont, whenever possible.

The company's commitment to excellence is paying off – Lake Champlain has grown to produce 1.3 million lbs. of chocolate per year.

“We began designing a new chocolate bar production line in 2017 and needed inspection equipment to help ensure our product quality. It’s important that we protect consumers, our brand and our private-label partners,” says Jason Antkowiak, plant operations manager at Lake Champlain. “Metal detection is essential for our SQF food safety certification, and checkweighing helps us reliably meet net weight and control product accuracy. The challenges were our tight floorspace and a limited budget.

“Our sales rep, Don Stewart of Flo-Dynamics, recommended Mettler-Toledo’s checkweigher/metal detector combination system. Since it has both inspection units on a single frame, it has a smaller footprint and was more cost-effective than buying two separate systems,” Antkowiak continues. “Mettler-Toledo has incredible attention to detail in their engineering, equipment functionality and support. Plus, we have an old Mettler-Toledo Safeline metal detector from 2003 that’s still very reliable, which reinforced our choice.”

The combination system identifies and rejects ferrous and non-ferrous metal, as well as under- and/or over-weight products at an accuracy of +/- 1g or better, depending on the application. Lake Champlain’s system inspects 126 chocolate bars per minute, although it’s capable of running up to 200 bars per minute. Bars that don’t pass inspection are automatically removed from the line with a pneumatic reject device, also from Mettler-Toledo.

“The accuracy of this metal detector is the best we’ve seen – it’s able to identify metal so small you’d never be able to see or taste it,” says John Weishaar, production manager at Lake Champlain. “The checkweigher rejects overweight products to eliminate product giveaway and help guarantee our nutritional statements are accurate. It rejects underweight products to ensure we’re providing the amount of product we promise.”

“We use data from our combo system to alert us if the line is having issues, so we can adjust our upstream equipment,” says Antkowiak. “That data is also invaluable for providing assurance to our private-label partners that we’re doing what it takes to produce the highest quality product.”

“Mettler-Toledo customized our unit in a few ways,” adds Weishaar. “Since this line runs at high speeds, they added two extra spacing conveyors so only one chocolate bar is on the checkweigher at a time to achieve consistent accuracy. And since chocolate bars can skew at those speeds, they installed guide rails on the conveyors to keep the bars oriented.”

“Sanitation was one of the biggest reasons we selected this system. It’s inspecting unwrapped bars of chocolate, which can create a sticky, sugary mess, and since our chocolate bars sometimes contain nuts and peanut butter, we need to eliminate cross-contamination of allergens,” explains Antkowiak. “It makes sanitation incredibly simple. The open design gives us easy access, and the belts come apart quickly when we need to do a full washdown.”

Available in 24 flavor combinations and weighing 3 oz. or 3.25 oz., the chocolate bars are sent through the combo unit before being packaged in heat-sealed foil wrap and then glued paper wrap. Lake Champlain changes over the system multiple times a day, which may include just a simple setting change or a full washdown, depending on the products being inspected.

“Our Mettler-Toledo combination checkweigher/metal detector is one of the most reliable pieces of equipment we have. We can always count on it,” concludes Weishaar. “It’s an essential part of helping us meet our food safety requirements and provided the foundation for business growth into new channels, such as club stores and national retailers.”

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