Workers Health & Safety Centre

NIOSH releases new resource to help combat a significant food industry hazard

Uncontrolled worker exposures to the food flavouring chemical, diacetyl, elevates the risk of developing negative health effects, including irreversible lung disease. 
Such is the conclusion of the U.S National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
In response, NIOSH published guidelines last month which contain best work practices, engineering controls and monitoring techniques to help protect workers from this toxic chemical.
Diacetyl (also called butanedione or 2,3‑butanedione) is a chemical used by manufacturers in the food industry to give butter and certain food flavorings a distinctive buttery flavour and aroma.  Food flavourings containing diacetyl are used in microwave popcorn and other snack foods, pet foods, candies, baked goods, and other food products.

In general, flavouring chemicals such as diacetyl are very volatile, so they evaporate into the air from their liquid or solid form and can be easily inhaled. They can also be inhaled in the form of a powder if airborne dust is created in the production process.
Many of these chemicals are highly irritating to the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin. Symptoms include cough and shortness of breath on exertion. Several workers have been diagnosed with obliterative bronchiolitis, an irreversible lung disease that can reduce lung function enough to cause disability.
In their guidelines Best Practices: Engineering Controls, Work Practices, and Exposure Monitoring for Occupational Exposures to Diacetyl and 2,3-Pentanedione, NIOSH recommends employers follow the hierarchy of controls which include: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and as a last resort personal protective equipment (PPE). Several specific recommendations such as engineering controls for various aspects of production processes are outlined.
Some food facilities have begun producing or working with diacetyl substitutes such as 2,3‑pentanedione which is chemically very similar to diacetyl. However, researchers have found in laboratory studies, that acute inhalation exposures to 2,3‑pentanedione causes airway damage similar to diacetyl. 
Consequently, NIOSH warns “diacetyl substitutes should not be assumed to be safe until further toxicology studies are performed.”
Want to read the NIOSH Best Practices: Engineering Controls, Work Practices, and Exposure Monitoring for Occupational Exposures to Diacetyl and 2,3‑Pentanedione?  
WHSC offers a wide range of training programs and resources to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to toxic substances and other workplace hazards.
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