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How to ensure worker health in breading operations.

Page-E; Dowell-C; Mueller-C; Biagini-R; Lechliter-J
Natl Provis 2014 Dec; 228(12):54-56
Workers at poultry breading plants exposed to airborne breading dust are at risk of developing asthma, bronchitis and upper respiratory ailments. Breading dust contains wheat and other cereal flours which have long been linked with respiratory illnesses that include allergies and a specific type of asthma called "baker's asthma." Managers and operators of plants that bread poultry or other types of food should be aware of the risks of exposure to airborne breading dust, and they should use methods known to be effective in minimizing the dust that becomes suspended in the air. Also, having periodic health checks of employees and training them to be aware of the symptoms of exposure to breading dust are important steps to preserving a healthy work environment. These measures can prevent illnesses and help reduce sick leave and employee turnover. By doing so, they allow for more efficient plant operations and reduce costs associated with employee sick leave and dust-related illnesses. A team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) evaluated a poultry breading plant in Georgia at the request of the local poultry worker's union. The union had concerns that plant employees had more cases of respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and nasal symptoms than other people. The NIOSH team looked at work processes, practices and conditions at the plant. Air samples taken at different locations and times showed the concentrations of flour dust in the air that employees breathed. The team considered employees as "lower exposure" or "higher exposure" based on their job. Lower-exposure employees worked with product that was already cooked, on a line that did not bread chicken and in other jobs with minimal direct contact with breading dust. Higher-exposure employees handled flour and other ingredients and uncooked breaded product. Employees voluntarily gave blood samples that NIOSH tested to determine whether the employees were sensitized to flour dust, wheat, garlic, onion, soybean, corn or paprika, all of which the plant used. Sensitization is the presence of certain types of antibodies specific to a particular substance. An allergy is sensitization to a substance along with allergic symptoms when exposed to that substance. The team asked employees about their jobs and health. Employees reported whether they had cough or symptoms of asthma or allergies. They reported whether these symptoms were better, worse or unchanged on days off work. NIOSH found the median flour dust concentration was 8.21 milligrams per cubic meter in air samples collected from areas where higher-exposure employees worked. A median is the point at which an equal number of measurements are above and below. This was nearly eight times higher than the median air concentration from the work areas where the lower-exposure group worked. Most samples from both lower- and higher-exposure employee groups were above 0.5 milligrams per cubic meter, the occupational exposure limit recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) for flour dust. For the higher-exposure group samples, the median concentration was more than 16 times the ACGIH recommended limit. Even for the lower-exposure group samples, the median concentration was more than twice the ACGIH recommended limit. The ACGIH limit is specific to flour dust and was set to make wheat flour sensitization less likely. The company had based its occupational exposure limits on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) permissible exposure limit for particulates not otherwise regulated. OSHA's limit is 15 milligrams per cubic meter for total dust, and 5 milligrams per cubic meter for respirable dust. The company followed OSHA's legally enforced limit rather than the ACGIH recommended limit. NIOSH investigators recommend that employers use the ACGIH limit. To see the full report, go to <a href=""target="_blank"></a>.
Poultry-workers; Poultry-industry; Food-handlers; Food-processing; Food-processing-industry; Food-processing-workers; Bronchial-asthma; Respiratory-system-disorders; Allergens; Allergic-reactions; Allergies; Grain-dusts; Surveillance-programs; Author Keywords: breading dust; employee welfare; employee wellness; NIOSH; respiratory illness; worker safety; HETA 2009-0131-3171
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Journal Article
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NIOSH Division
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The National Provisioner
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division