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Limiting Job Exposures to Food Flavorings, Flavoring Ingredients, is Recommended in New Alert

January 15, 2004
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends in a new NIOSH Alert that employers take measures to limit employees occupational respiratory exposures to food flavorings and flavoring ingredients in workplaces where flavorings are made or used. These steps provide practical ways to reduce potential risks of occupational lung disease, NIOSH said.

The Alert stems from a series of NIOSH health hazard evaluations that began in 2000 when NIOSH learned of the occurrence of bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe lung disease, in workers at a microwave popcorn packaging plant. Results of the health hazard evaluations to date suggest that adverse effects may result from occupational inhalation exposures to high, airborne concentrations of some flavorings or their ingredients in the form of vapors, dusts, or sprays. Consumers are not believed to be at risk from preparing or eating the microwave popcorn products.

The Alert provides practical guidance for recognizing and reducing potential occupational risks while research continues that will help NIOSH and others better determine what flavorings or ingredients may pose a work-related risk of adverse effects, and in what circumstances. The Alert discusses the symptoms of the cases that have been associated with job-related exposure to flavorings, provides details of six workplace case clusters, notes the types of medical evaluations that may reveal adverse effects, and recommends practical measures for limiting occupational exposures.

The Alert draws on interim findings and recommendations that were previously reported to employers and employees at the plants where NIOSH has been conducting its health hazard evaluations, and previously reported in the scientific literature. It also reflects discussions that NIOSH has held with industry groups, employees, and occupational health professionals while conducting the health hazard evaluations over the past three years.

“The Alert reflects NIOSH=s commitment to moving research findings into practice, and we appreciate the assistance of our diverse stakeholders who have helped us in these studies,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “While our basic findings and recommendations have been reported in the scientific literature, in meetings with industry and employee groups, and in the press, the Alert provides an important additional vehicle for disseminating clear, easy-to-understand information to a wide audience.”

In order of preference, according to standard occupational health practices, NIOSH recommends that employers minimize occupational exposures to flavorings or flavoring ingredients by:

  • Substituting a material or materials that may be less hazardous, after carefully evaluating potential substitutes,
  • Using engineering controls such as closed systems, isolation, or ventilation,
  • Instituting administrative controls such as housekeeping and work practices,
  • Educating employers and employees to raise their awareness of potential hazards and controls,
  • Using personal protective equipment where needed as an adjunct to primary engineering or administrative controls, and
  • Monitoring occupational exposures and the status of workers= health, tracking potential symptoms or cases, and reporting such symptoms or cases to NIOSH and state health departments.

“NIOSH Alert: Preventing Lung Disease in Workers Who Use or Make Flavorings,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-110, is available on the NIOSH web page at Printed copies can be ordered from NIOSH at toll free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).