When eating a strawberry-flavored cereal bar or enjoying a bag of microwave popcorn, few San Diego residents likely think about how such products are made. When something says it’s strawberry flavored or smells like fresh flowers, American consumers fully expect a product’s manufacturer to deliver. As a result, during 2013 alone, the flavorings and fragrances industry reported profits of roughly $24 billion.
The problem, some contend, is that many of the chemicals and materials that go into making our foods taste and products smell a certain way come with many unknowns. In small quantities, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed many of these chemicals safe for human consumption and exposure. However, the workers who are responsible for handling these chemicals are exposed to exponentially higher concentrations and amounts, the results of which can have serious health implications.
Take for example, the chemical diacetyl which is used as a flavoring agent in foods including microwave popcorn. Concerns about workers’ exposure to diacetyl gained national media attention in 2001 when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released information linking exposure to the chemical with the development of serious lung diseases and conditions.
Today there are likely many other chemicals that are used as food and product flavorings and scents that are similarly putting manufacturing workers at risk of developing occupational illnesses. While many of the risks posed by exposure to these chemicals remain unknown, there are steps that those who own and run manufacturing plants and facilities can implement to reduce workers’ risk of unnecessary exposure.
Improved ventilation systems and process changes related to how certain chemicals are added to compounds have been proven effective measures in limiting exposure. Unfortunately, the passage of federal regulations mandating the implementation of such practices remains unpopular and, as a result, the health and very lives of thousands of U.S. workers remain in jeopardy.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Worker Risks From Chemical Flavorings Get Manufacturers’ Attention,” Ben Dipietro, Feb. 3, 2015