Endangered Species Chocolate – Not a toxic source of lead

I love chocolate! (Big surprise, right? A lot of people love it.) If you read my blog regularly, you probably know that supporting organizations that save rain forests and ones that promote fair/equitable trade are very important to me. Naturally a company that makes chocolate bars from equitably traded cocoa and donates profits to save the rain forests sounds like a win-win-win idea to me. That’s exactly what Endangered Species Chocolate (chocolatebar.com) does, and my family and I love them!

I was concerned after recently reading the following information:

About 70 percent of the world’s chocolate is grown in west and central Africa. The lead content of cocoa beans is low, but that of manufactured cocoa and chocolate products is among the highest of any food. How so? No one is sure, but several major cocoa bean-producing countries in Africa used leaded gasoline until recently, and a few still do. It seems likely the toxic metal is introduced at some point, probably multiple points, during cocoa bean shipping and processing. Is there enough to worry about? The Dagoba Organic Chocolate company of Ashland, Oregon, thought so or anyway did after a little prodding from the Food and Drug Administration. Though the company wouldn’t divulge test results, it recalled 40,000 pounds of its high-end chocolate products this spring after some were found to exceed FDA standards for lead.

Since Nigeria, the place where Endangered Species Chocolate is grown and produced, is in western central Africa, it would seem like their chocolate might be at considerable risk of lead contamination. That would be heartbreaking to this chocoholic. I wrote to the company (gotta love the Internet!), and I received a very nice response back that I would like to share (only editing out some personal info). It certainly put my fears to rest.

Greetings Will,

We are thrilled to hear that Endangered Species Chocolate is well received [in your household]! […] We thank you for providing us the opportunity to address your concerns about lead as well as share information about the care that goes into sourcing our ethically traded chocolate. To insure I address each of your questions, I have inserted replies to each in the body of your original email below.

Please feel free to contact us if you have additional questions or need further clarification. [Since it is nearly] Halloween, you may wish to spotlight our festive Halloween Treats! These bagged, bite-sized squares of chocolate are the perfect all-natural treat to satisfy those ghosts and goblins that knock on your door (visit our website for images of this tasty treat, www.chocolatebar.com).

Sweet Regards,
Endangered Species Chocolate
Monica Erskine
Senior Customer Service Rep.

[WM] Your chocolate solids, cocoa butter, sugar, etc. are presumably all organic (they are, aren’t they?), but are the ingredients tested for lead at any point? Obviously nobody is going to deliberately sprinkle lead onto the crops as either a fertilizer or a pesticide, so I am not certain if ground-water or contaminated soil are checked or if it’s only what’s added to the crops that is checked.

[ESC] Our 3oz chocolate bars are created using all-natural, ethically traded chocolate grown in Nigeria while the certified organic, ethically traded chocolate used in our 1.4oz Premium Organic Bars and .35oz bite-sized chocolates comes from the Dominican Republic. All of the chocolate used in our products is rigorously tested for lead and other contaminates using the highest European standards.

[WM] What type of water is used, both as an ingredient and during processing? Is it natural spring water, well water, river water, or something else? How is the water processed, sterilized, and otherwise treated? Since chlorine is nearly as toxic in some cases as the stuff the chlorine neutralizes, if used, is the chlorine removed before it comes in contact with the product? Does the water treatment adequately remove lead or does it concentrate it in the water? Are there any points from growing, to harvesting, to processing, to distribution where less adequately or untreated water touch the chocolate? I doubt that a company would admit to that publicly if it did, but I hope that you regularly review your processes to make sure that does not happen.

[ESC] Water does not contact our chocolate during any stage of final processing; the final moisture content of our chocolate is less than 1%. Chlorine is not used in any stage of the processing. The well-water used for irrigation of the cacao crops is continually tested for lead; however, most of the crop watering comes in the from of tropical rains.

[WM] Do you test the chocolate for high concentrations of toxins, including lead? We know the chocolate is organic, but that does not mean that there couldn’t be some natural processes that add toxins to the chocolate. Unless you test it, how do you know? And how often do you test? Never? Once? Once per year? Every x-th bar that comes off the line?

[ESC] Prior to receiving each lot or batch of raw chocolate, it is put through stringent testing by our supplier. Once we receive the chocolate, each batch (both in raw form and finished product) produced in our plant is tested by an outside laboratory for the following: APC, Coli form, E. coli, Staphylococcus, Yeast, Mold, Salmonella, Listeria, Mercury, Asbestos, Zinc, Nickel, and Lead. These tests are conducted daily. The finished products are isolated until the lab results are communicated to us (usually within 3-5 days).

[WM] I’m not asking you to be a whistle-blower, but are you aware–either in general or specific terms–of any serious health problems in the chocolate bar industry that we should check with other manufacturers?

[ESC] We believe, all in all, that the industry is very conscientious in regards to the health and well-being of its customers.

[WM] If you have any test results or summaries of test results, company statements, or other information that I could view and/or reprint, that would be greatly appreciated.

[ESC] Rest assured, Endangered Species Chocolate works hand-in-hand with Oregon Tilth, USDA, FDA, Indiana Department of Health, OU Kosher Rabbinical Council, Vegan Certification and our very own strict internal guidelines to insure our products meet all health requirements desired by our loyal consumers. If test results are needed to verify our product’s purity, we have them on hand for inspection by the entities mentioned above. Our goal is very simple – to make certain our products are always safe for consumers.

[WM] I want to close by thanking you for your charitable work to save the endangered species and in trading ethically with your cocoa farmers. It is for those reasons we tried your chocolate. It’s for the delicious chocolate and your charitable and ethical practices that keep us buying your chocolate month after month. 🙂

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