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Health hazard evaluation report: evaluation of respiratory concerns at a snack food production facility, New York.

Cummings KJ; Piacitelli C; Stanton M; Bailey RL
Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, HETA 2011-0037-3172, 2013 Mar; :1-38
In December 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a confidential employee request for a health hazard evaluation (HHE) at a snack food production facility in New York. The facility produces potato chips, corn chips, and other savory snack foods. The employees submitted the HHE request because of concerns about exposures to flavoring chemicals, seasonings, and materials encountered during cleaning activities, and concerns about breathing problems and lung disease. We initiated the evaluation by interviewing employees, managers, treating physicians, the facility's nurse, and the company's medical consultant by telephone. We also reviewed documents provided to NIOSH prior to the site visit, including material safety data sheets. From May 14-16, 2012, we visited the facility. We toured the facility, interviewed managers, the facility's nurse, the respiratory protection program administrator, and 25 randomly selected employees, and observed sanitation activities. We collected air samples during production and sanitation activities and collected bulk samples of seasonings for analysis of volatile organic compounds. We also collected additional documents, including records pertaining to the respiratory protection program. We found that the facility uses multiple substances that are respiratory irritants and/or allergens and that previous air sampling demonstrated the presence of the butter flavoring chemical diacetyl and diacetyl substitutes. One worker developed an uncommon immune-mediated lung disease, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, during employment that treating physicians concluded was caused by exposures to organic materials at the facility. During our site visit, we noted opportunities for potential respiratory exposure to organic materials from sources including corn and potatoes, seasonings, cardboard, sludge from a clarifying tank, and a catalyst. We detected diacetyl in three air samples at levels that were too low to quantify and found trace amounts of diacetyl in four bulk samples of seasonings. We detected sodium hydroxide in one air sample at a level that was too low to quantify. Until more is known about the safety of diacetyl substitutes, we recommend that seasonings that contain these substitutes be handled as respiratory hazards. We recommend reducing the potential for respiratory exposures to organic materials through a combination of enhanced engineering controls, modified work practices, and mandatory use of respiratory protection. Results of industrial hygiene evaluations should be interpreted with the knowledge that permissible exposure limits for dust or specific chemicals (where they exist) may not be protective for an immune-mediated health outcome. Employees should be encouraged to report new or persistent respiratory symptoms to the facility's nurse. The occurrence of such symptoms in the workforce should prompt consideration of work-related lung disease, re-evaluation of the potential for exposure to respiratory hazards, and lowering of such exposures.
Food-additives; Food-processing-industry; Food-processing-workers; Lung-disease; Lung-disorders; Lung-fibrosis; Respiratory-system-disorders; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Volatiles; Organic-chemicals; Organic-compounds; Respiratory-irritants; Allergens; Control-technology; Engineering-controls; Work-practices; Author Keywords: Other Snack Food Manufacturing; hypersensitivity pneumonitis; respiratory symptoms; occupational lung disease; flavorings; diacetyl; organic dust; bioaerosols; seasonings; sanitation; engineering controls; personal protective equipment
431-03-8; 1310-73-2
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Field Studies; Hazard Evaluation and Technical Assistance
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: March 25, 2022
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division