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Beginner considering selling candy - looking for answers to a few questions


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This is my first post here - I've been lurking and learning quite a bit, but I have a few specific questions I'm hoping someone will be willing to answer.

 

First, my situation - I've been making candies for the last decade or so for friends around the holidays. I started with maple candied pecans (I also make maple syrup as a hobby), then added candied orange peels, then dipped them in chocolate, then truffles, caramels, turtles, and I dabbled a bit in creams last year (but didn't really like the recipes I tried). My friends have been hounding me for years to sell, and the situation in Illinois is such that I can be classified as a "cottage food operation" to sell at farmers' markets. After reading some of the threads here, I've realized that the typical farmers' market is just a bad idea for chocolates - BUT - our city recently added an indoor farmer's market that runs November through May. AND you can pick which weeks you want to be there, so I could focus on just the weeks before the holidays and maybe Valentine's Day. I mean, that seems perfect, right?

 

Anyway, I've learned a lot from the forums, but I have a few outstanding questions that I'm hoping you might be willing to answer. 

 

1. I want to get some hemisphere molds, but I just can't decide what size to go with. I'd like to dabble in making cream filled spheres, but I also want to make some that are just hemispheres. Does anyone have specific dimensions for these that you think customers like?

 

2. I'm also interested in trying some basic mold decorating, mostly just to differentiate flavors. One easy way seems to be colored cocoa butter drizzled in before adding the shell. I get a little overwhelmed with the choices online. Is this a reasonable method? And if so, do you have a specific product you use?

 

3. For the truffles and creams, I've been putting them in little mini baking cups, and then packaging in a box. But I've also seen them just put loosely into the box without the extra cups. Does anyone feel strongly about this? Worth noting - due to my situation, I will have to have all of mine pre-packaged to bring to the market. I cannot have customers select individual candies to purchase.

 

4. Another packing question - I like to sprinkle the hand-rolled and dipped truffles with decorations that can be a little delicate (i.e. chocolate curls). Obviously, this is fine if you're putting them in a box and handing the box to your friends. When you're selling at a market, that box might be put in a bag and jostled around. Is this still safe to do? Or should I skip that kind of decoration?

 

5. More packaging question - for the candied nuts, orange peels, and turtles I've been using cellophane bags and twist ties. This doesn't seem appropriate for selling. Any suggestions for packaging items like these?

 

OK, I think that's it for now. Last night I had more questions in mind, but they're not coming to me now. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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Hi Dan, welcome to eGullet and the wonderful world of confectionery. 

 

There is a thread about packaging somewhere with links to sources.  A lot of it is personal choice on how you want things to look, how much you want to spend, whether you want to fold boxes or use set-up, how much plastic you're comfortable with, etc.  Plenty of us can commiserate that packaging takes at least as much time and effort as making the product :/

 

but here's my take:

2 hours ago, Dan K said:

1. I want to get some hemisphere molds, but I just can't decide what size to go with. I'd like to dabble in making cream filled spheres, but I also want to make some that are just hemispheres. Does anyone have specific dimensions for these that you think customers like?

Seriously consider pre-made truffle shells for the full spheres.  There is a magnetic sphere dome out there that a few of us have tried and hated.  I find perfect hemisphere molds can be tricky - if the shells release from the mold before you are done filling and capping, they can slide out and lead to messy edges when filling spills over into the mold.  This has been happening with some of my Easter eggs and is annoying.  I'm mostly using the CW 2295 dome these days.

 

Quote

2. I'm also interested in trying some basic mold decorating, mostly just to differentiate flavors. One easy way seems to be colored cocoa butter drizzled in before adding the shell. I get a little overwhelmed with the choices online. Is this a reasonable method? And if so, do you have a specific product you use?

I like Roxy & Rich cocoa butter colors though Chef Rubber are good too.  Consider luster dust and piping a contrasting chocolate as other easy decor.

 

 

Quote

 

3. For the truffles and creams, I've been putting them in little mini baking cups, and then packaging in a box. But I've also seen them just put loosely into the box without the extra cups. Does anyone feel strongly about this?

Cupping is annoying but I'd use a cup OR a well-fitting tray.  Right now I have boxes with trays for bonbon assortments, though I use cups and different boxes for bulk orders to certain customers, and I have one box that is such a snug fit that I use nothing because they can't slide or rattle around at all.

 

 

Quote

 

4. Another packing question - I like to sprinkle the hand-rolled and dipped truffles with decorations that can be a little delicate (i.e. chocolate curls). Obviously, this is fine if you're putting them in a box and handing the box to your friends. When you're selling at a market, that box might be put in a bag and jostled around. Is this still safe to do? Or should I skip that kind of decoration?

Definitely be concerned.  Box a few up and shake then around several times, turn them upside down, etc.

 

 

Quote

 

5. More packaging question - for the candied nuts, orange peels, and turtles I've been using cellophane bags and twist ties. This doesn't seem appropriate for selling. Any suggestions for packaging items like these?

Nothing wrong with that.  Consider heat-sealing the bags for freshness and to tamper-proof.  Find a more special twist tie - metallic or patterned or with a bow attached and a cute sticker and you're fine.

 

 

 

Edited by pastrygirl (log)
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6 hours ago, Dan K said:

1. I want to get some hemisphere molds, but I just can't decide what size to go with. I'd like to dabble in making cream filled spheres, but I also want to make some that are just hemispheres. Does anyone have specific dimensions for these that you think customers like?

 

I'll respond to more of your questions when I have a little more time, but you might want to check out the hemisphere/demisphere molds I have for sale in the Classifieds section of the forum.  I was not satisfied with the size of the existing ones (too small to provide a real taste of the filling) or too large (would not fit in the trays I use for boxing).  My listing provides the dimensions and shows some of the bonbons I have made with them.  I agree with pastrygirl that any shallow mold (eggs, hemispheres, the so-called quenelles) have the issue she mentions.  BUT bonbons made with them almost always pop out of the molds without banging on the counter and they are very easy to decorate (a simple swirl of colored cocoa butter, then spray or paint with another color, or just splatter some cocoa butter of various colors across the mold).

 

I'll add here that I have been tempted to sell at the local farmers' market and have almost given in multiple times (vendors even offered a free tent and setup), but the weather is just too problematic.  And the market continued during this past December, but at that point I was up to my eyeballs making Christmas chocolates.

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Thanks so much for the replies!

 

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Seriously consider pre-made truffle shells for the full spheres.  There is a magnetic sphere dome out there that a few of us have tried and hated.  

Thanks for the nudge on this one. I've become enamored with Amy Levin on YouTube, which is why I asked. She has a couple videos about making shells that look easy, but of course she's a professional! I think I'll stick to truffles and bon bons for now, but the spheres look amazing!

 

Great tips on everything else as well.

 

Quote

I'll add here that I have been tempted to sell at the local farmers' market and have almost given in multiple times (vendors even offered a free tent and setup), but the weather is just too problematic.  And the market continued during this past December, but at that point I was up to my eyeballs making Christmas chocolates.

Thanks for the link to those molds, Jim. I will definitely take a look. Just to clarify regarding my situation - our city actually has an indoor farmers' market, so none of the usual temperature concerns. It seems like a nice way for me to dabble on the side. They let you go for as few or as many weekends as you want, which is nice.

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  • 2 weeks later...

OK, I have another question that I hope someone can help with.... storage!

 

So I will be making these chocolates out of my home, and I'm wondering about storage, particularly of truffles and bon bons. I've done some searching in the forums, and haven't found answers for my particular situation, but it may already be out there.

 

I have a couple of ideas, and I'm wondering if you have some feedback. 

 

Idea 1: Buy a wine fridge and store on trays like this with lids: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/1-2-size-bun-pan-cover-18-x-13/407PLSP1813C.html

 

Idea 2: Get a sheet pan rack and find a safe spot in the basement for it, and again, use some trays with lids. Something like this: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/regency-7-pan-aluminum-end-load-sheet-bun-pan-rack-for-reach-ins-unassembled/600RIR7KD.html

 

Any other ideas? Last year when I made a few hundred for my friends, I put them in cheap aluminum pans with plastic covers in the fridge until they were ready to box. I know there are strong feelings about refrigeration, but I had no issues with condensation or sugar bloom (at least none that I noticed or that anyone told me about).

 

Thanks!

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What you linked works for me. I store bonbons on parchment lined half sheet pans with plastic covers. I don't have a speed rack, but for my needs, it's what works. Really, I just can't recommend sheet pans and covers enough. 

 

On refrigerating bonbons, I personal wouldn't unless your in a warm area where the heat could damage them.

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39 minutes ago, minas6907 said:

What you linked works for me. I store bonbons on parchment lined half sheet pans with plastic covers. I don't have a speed rack, but for my needs, it's what works. Really, I just can't recommend sheet pans and covers enough. 

Thanks! This is encouraging to hear, because the cheap ones worked so well last year!

 

This is probably silly, but do you just keep them on the counter? Stored in a pantry cabinet? I’m trying to think about how everything will fit in my kitchen!

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https://ziploc.com/en/Products/Containers/Rectangle/Containers-Large-Rectangle

 

I've discovered that these fit 96 (3 molds full) of my domed bonbons (CW2295) with candy pads between layers.

 

I keep things refrigerated or frozen.

 

You're pre-boxing everything, right?  Keep 5 or 10 or 20 boxes put together and someplace cool then freeze back-ups. 

 

What do you currently suggest for shelf life?  I figure that keeping them in the fridge will buy a little more time and the shelf life clock doesn't really begin until they're out at room temp. 

 

Edited by pastrygirl (log)
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52 minutes ago, Dan K said:

This is probably silly, but do you just keep them on the counter? Stored in a pantry cabinet? I’m trying to think about how everything will fit in my kitchen!

Not a silly question at all! I'm my apartment I have two 6 shelf wire racks, I keep everything related to the chocolate and sugar parked there. I have a shelf that's just for finished items, so at any given moment, there's usually around 4 it 5 sheet pans with plastic covers on there. I just stack them on top of each other. I like those plastic covers alot for when I would do candy tables at weddings. It was always a concern of mine having the bonbons crushed en route, but they made storage and transportation alot easier.

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2 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

https://ziploc.com/en/Products/Containers/Rectangle/Containers-Large-Rectangle

 

I've discovered that these fit 96 (3 molds full) of my domed bonbons (CW2295) with candy pads between layers.

 

I keep things refrigerated or frozen.

 

You're pre-boxing everything, right?  Keep 5 or 10 or 20 boxes put together and someplace cool then freeze back-ups. 

 

What do you currently suggest for shelf life?  I figure that keeping them in the fridge will buy a little more time and the shelf life clock doesn't really begin until they're out at room temp. 

Great suggestion on those containers. That was essentially my plan - have a bunch packed and ready to go for the market and then have a supply as backup.

 

I've been researching packaging and I've settled on two choices:

* Boxes of 4 truffles using these: https://www.nashvillewraps.com/boxes/truffle-boxes/p-918/tc4kr

* Larger boxes of 9, with a mix of truffles, creams (bon bons? I'm still not sure what the distinction is), and maybe a caramel and mini chocolate covered graham in there in one of these: https://www.nashvillewraps.com/boxes/truffle-box/p-907/tbr4ek

 

I am not sure on the shelf life, to be honest. I have never had an issue, and I usually store mine in the fridge or the garage (probably won't do that anymore - ha!) and they get eaten within 3 or 4 weeks. I've been in contact with the county health department to check their regulations, and they want me to test anything that might be "potentially hazardous", so I hope to make some truffles and send in ones that are one week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks old to see what they can find. I suspect that they'll all be fine.

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2 hours ago, minas6907 said:

Not a silly question at all! I'm my apartment I have two 6 shelf wire racks, I keep everything related to the chocolate and sugar parked there. I have a shelf that's just for finished items, so at any given moment, there's usually around 4 it 5 sheet pans with plastic covers on there. I just stack them on top of each other. I like those plastic covers alot for when I would do candy tables at weddings. It was always a concern of mine having the bonbons crushed en route, but they made storage and transportation alot easier.

OK, this is super helpful. I think I'll be set. We have a nice kitchen, but I'll have to get approval from management before assuming I can store things there. LOL!

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35 minutes ago, Dan K said:

I am not sure on the shelf life, to be honest. I have never had an issue, and I usually store mine in the fridge or the garage (probably won't do that anymore - ha!) and they get eaten within 3 or 4 weeks. I've been in contact with the county health department to check their regulations, and they want me to test anything that might be "potentially hazardous", so I hope to make some truffles and send in ones that are one week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks old to see what they can find. I suspect that they'll all be fine.

 

4 weeks is a relatively short time and most things should be fine.  But for example today someone picked up a box of bonbons and said it's for a birthday in 3 weeks.  If they've been in my fridge for a couple of weeks, then they go to someone's house for 3 weeks, then maybe the birthday person went keto for the month ... how are they at 8 or 10 weeks?   Or if you do holiday markets, you'll have people wanting to buy gifts in November to give six weeks later, then the recipient saves it til Valentine's.

 

Can you keep things frozen til ready to sell and give a reasonably confident 6-8 weeks?  Or if it's a month, just make it clear.

 

Occasionally I'll taste test old bonbons in the name of science (and as an excuse for gluttony) and often they're fine but sometimes there's shrinkage or flavors will fade, even mold. 

 

I am super paranoid about it, I admit.

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2 minutes ago, pastrygirl said:

 

4 weeks is a relatively short time and most things should be fine.  But for example today someone picked up a box of bonbons and said it's for a birthday in 3 weeks.  If they've been in my fridge for a couple of weeks, then they go to someone's house for 3 weeks, then maybe the birthday person went keto for the month ... how are they at 8 or 10 weeks?   Or if you do holiday markets, you'll have people wanting to buy gifts in November to give six weeks later, then the recipient saves it til Valentine's.

 

Can you keep things frozen til ready to sell and give a reasonably confident 6-8 weeks?  Or if it's a month, just make it clear.

 

Occasionally I'll taste test old bonbons in the name of science (and as an excuse for gluttony) and often they're fine but sometimes there's shrinkage or flavors will fade, even mold.  I am super paranoid about it, probably overly cautious.

Yeah, I'm very worried as well. So maybe I should do my test, but start at 4 weeks. All I have to go on so far is my own tasting experience and feedback from friends in the past, and I have never had anything go bad.

 

I do plan on putting something like a "best by" date on the label. I hope that people recognize that hand made fresh chocolates aren't going to last months in the cupboard!

 

I guess I need to get on that and make some truffles so the testing can begin. In the name of science! 

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Like pastrygirl, I take shelf life very seriously.  But I got even more serious about it when I discovered mold inside a bonbon not long ago.  I went into a panic, notified people who had bought the chocolate in question, had to take the boxes off the shelves of a retail outlet.  They had been stored in an air-conditioned room with temp around 65F.  Turns out that's not low enough.  Now I am careful to freeze anything that's going to sit around, and during the period when customers are stopping by to pick up chocolates, I keep them in the storage room, but now with the temp set at 60F.  For retail outlets, I now give them instructions on how to keep some of the stock frozen and gradually bring it to fridge temp for sales.  I wish I had a cooler with humidity control just for chocolates--that would make me feel better.  A wine fridge has the right temp range, but you would need one large enough to hold more than you now make because if your chocolates become popular, your sales will increase more than you probably imagine at this point.  No matter how much you tell customers about shelf life, there are always going to be some who stretch the consumption into a far longer time span.  So even though I have an Aw meter and test every recipe, a decent reading doesn't guarantee long shelf life.  In warmer weather and for freezing, I use an impulse sealer to seal all boxes of chocolates in plastic bags, which protects them from humidity.

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7 hours ago, Jim D. said:

[...]if your chocolates become popular, your sales will increase more than you probably imagine at this point. 


I have to admit, this is a possibility I hadn’t considered. My only plan for now is to sell at the local indoor farmers’ market in November and December of this year, and then take it from there. 
 

I have a good full-time job that I like, so there are natural  limitations to how much I’ll be able to make, and I just plan on selling what I can, and if I sell out, I sell out. 
 

It’s a small farmers’ market designed to support endeavors like mine, so I think customers will understand. There are also 3 excellent full blown candy shops in the next town, so I don’t think it’s practical to plan on ever opening a shop. (I do think there is a market for what I make, as many of my items are as good or better than what I have tasted from the high end shops.)

 

But long term, I don’t think I can financially justify any thought of doing anything larger unless sales are such that it can’t be ignored.

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21 hours ago, Dan K said:

I hope that people recognize that hand made fresh chocolates aren't going to last months in the cupboard!

 

There is often room for education - some customers are vaguely aware, some are not. 

 

I just got an email asking about the shelf life on two products someone had sent to their family overseas.  I looked up their order and they had bought a bunch of stuff in early December last year.  Luckily the items were caramels and gianduja so I could tell them they should be fine through end of May, but I wouldn't feel so confident about bonbons made last November.  (And there are best by dates on those boxes)

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i don't sell chocolates at the moment, but food safety is something i think about and try to keep up in. i worked in a research lab for a while that worked with food safety microbes (mostly in water quality), though i generally worked with bacteria instead of fungi.

 

if you search the forum, you can find a lot of posts talking about the moisture content and water activity of various confections. broadly speaking, the more water there is in something, the lower the shelf life is going to be (like, a bar of pure chocolate is functionally immortal, a chocolate covered strawberry will only last a little while). as @pastrygirl mentioned, items like caramels and gianduja will usually give less trouble in this area as they'll have much less water than something like a custard-filled bonbon. 

 

when it comes to longer-term storage of stuff, the freezer is really the way to go, as @pastrygirl again suggested. for the most part, it pauses the countdown on shelf life. this only applies to a freezer that doesn't auto-defrost. the defrost cycles in a freezer will degrade food over time (high fat, high sugar, and high alcohol foods are often the least impacted but it's still a non-zero effect); they won't grow microbes while frozen, but they may suffer taste or texture issues after an extended period of time. this effect will vary from freezer to freezer. 

 

something to think about: probably all of us have had something grow mould while refrigerated. the average fridge temp is around 4C, or 39F. if mould can grow at those temperatures, it will surely grow at temperatures above this (well, up to a point). still, the fridge will absolutely extend the shelf life of confections (both in terms of microbial spoilage as well as slower oxidation), though, usually up to several times what they might otherwise be

Edited by jimb0 (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Today was a shelf life test day, I went to one of my consignors to pick up unsold Easter items and they still had a box of bonbons from Valentine’s Day so I grabbed that too. I delivered those at the end of January so they’ve been at room temp 10 weeks, in my fridge up to 2 weeks during production. 
 

Out of 12 pieces, I think the coconut had gone a little off, the hazelnut was super dull from fat bloom, and the cinnamon had both a pocket of blue mold and fuzzy white mold under the shell. 😳
 

Really glad I pulled that and I hope the 9 boxes they sold have been eaten by now.  I wonder when the turning point was ... I had been getting more confident - or perhaps cavalier - and went with 12 weeks for a recent batch. Maybe I should be more conservative and say eat within 8 weeks?ABE32760-D12A-4BC8-B5A4-2885614D5A43.jpeg.8803367811e503e9f17f1a2bd8d8f54c.jpeg
D6ECE098-030A-47D0-8AD8-CA2A1A52B68F.jpeg.e68a82386956a97519a137c055d10912.jpeg

 

Edited by pastrygirl (log)
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Oh wow, that is pretty astounding. I definitely need to leave some of my practice ones for some shelf life tests. I’ve never seen that in a chocolate before!

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certainly there are also preservatives you can add that won't impact flavour but will drastically improve shelf life. it depends on how label conscious your consumers are. some will care, some won't. to be honest i don't have a lot of patience for people who drone on about naturalism while eating a bonbon but it's not my opinion that matters in terms of sales....

 

16 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

Today was a shelf life test day, I went to one of my consignors to pick up unsold Easter items and they still had a box of bonbons from Valentine’s Day so I grabbed that too. I delivered those at the end of January so they’ve been at room temp 10 weeks, in my fridge up to 2 weeks during production. 
 

Out of 12 pieces, I think the coconut had gone a little off, the hazelnut was super dull from fat bloom, and the cinnamon had both a pocket of blue mold and fuzzy white mold under the shell. 😳
 

Really glad I pulled that and I hope the 9 boxes they sold have been eaten by now.  I wonder when the turning point was ... I had been getting more confident - or perhaps cavalier - and went with 12 weeks for a recent batch. Maybe I should be more conservative and say eat within 8 weeks?ABE32760-D12A-4BC8-B5A4-2885614D5A43.jpeg.8803367811e503e9f17f1a2bd8d8f54c.jpeg
D6ECE098-030A-47D0-8AD8-CA2A1A52B68F.jpeg.e68a82386956a97519a137c055d10912.jpeg

 

 

that's wild. was the cinnamon 'just' a ganache with cinnamon added? 

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28 minutes ago, jimb0 said:

 

that's wild. was the cinnamon 'just' a ganache with cinnamon added? 

 

yes

 

The fat bloom on the hazelnut was my own fault, I got the (not so) brilliant idea to line the shell with a layer of gianduja, thus putting too much oil right up against the dark chocolate shell.  Oops 🙄

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17 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

Really glad I pulled that and I hope the 9 boxes they sold have been eaten by now.  I wonder when the turning point was ... I had been getting more confident - or perhaps cavalier - and went with 12 weeks for a recent batch. Maybe I should be more conservative and say eat within 8 weeks?

 

Yeah, I think you should be more conservative. As a food consumer (buyer), usually, I don't complain. I would stop buying, though.

 

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1 hour ago, jimb0 said:

certainly there are also preservatives you can add that won't impact flavour but will drastically improve shelf life. it depends on how label conscious your consumers are. some will care, some won't. to be honest i don't have a lot of patience for people who drone on about naturalism while eating a bonbon but it's not my opinion that matters in terms of sales....

 

 

I'm glad you brought that up.  After an experience like pastrygirl's, I bought some sorbic acid to add to ganaches, but have not been able to find the correct amount to use.

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12 hours ago, Jim D. said:

 

I'm glad you brought that up.  After an experience like pastrygirl's, I bought some sorbic acid to add to ganaches, but have not been able to find the correct amount to use.

 

i believe wybauw recommended 0.1% (presumably by weight) for centres after adjusting the pH to 4.5. i'll dig around in some food journals to see what else we can find.

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19 hours ago, MokaPot said:

As a food consumer (buyer), usually, I don't complain. I would stop buying, though.

 

& that's another thing to be aware of - some people will give you feedback, many won't, so it's even harder to know what has happened to your product once it leaves your hands.  As much as I prefer the gushingly positive emails, if I've made a mistake somewhere ultimately I do want to know and try to make it right if possible.  And if it's something like an un-named allergen  - hey, it didn't say nuts on the box but I just bit into an almond- the maker really needs to know before they hurt someone.

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