A large number of the foods we eat on a daily basis contain artificial flavors. You're probably aware that the grape bubble gum and cherry soda you come across at the grocery store aren't made from actual fruit. Rather, they are infused with man-made taste signatures that are supposed to represent their respective flavors. While it may not be surprising to hear that junk food items don't exactly qualify as "all natural" products, even many traditional dietary staples include synthetic flavorings and ingredients.
Unfortunately for the workers who produce these taste signatures, creating food flavoring is not as delightful a job as it may sound. In fact, it can actually be hazardous to your health. The processes used in combining natural and man-made ingredients can be dangerous for factory workers who are constantly exposed to harmful dusts, vapors and sprays. Chemicals used during the process can cause serious respiratory illnesses. Fortunately, there are preventative steps that both employers and employees can take to maintain a safe working environment.
Flavorings: Dangerous to Workers
Generally, flavorings are complex mixtures of natural ingredients and chemicals designed to enhance the taste of food. These chemicals often appear on the ingredient lists of food packages. They are typically the long, complicated words that are hard to pronounce, such as benzaldehyde (bitter almond flavor), limonene (orange flavor) and Ethylvanillin (vanilla flavor). Although consumption of these chemicals in moderation does not present a threat, inhalation can be extremely dangerous.
Flavoring factories have large containers of these dangerous chemicals that are used in the production process. Therefore, even diligent workers who are conscious of safety concerns still have a moderate chance of being exposed. Many of these chemicals can have a harmful effect on the respiratory system if you inhale them in high enough concentrations.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted an investigation to determine if the employees of a microwave popcorn packaging plant had significant health problems. NIOSH found that there was a connection between the presence of chemical vapors from food flavorings and decreased lung function among the factory workers. This decreased lung function could contribute to serious lung disease because the chemicals could obstruct one's airways and make breathing difficult.
Respiratory illnesses are relatively common among food flavoring production workers. This is a serious concern as it may be evidence of long-term exposure to dangerous substances. The most common symptoms are coughing and shortness of breath on exertion. NIOSH found that affected workers generally notice a reduction of coughing after they are no longer exposed to flavoring chemicals. However, the shortness of breath on exertion often persists and may be chronic.
Workers' Steps to Protect Their Health
Unfortunately, it is often hard to ascertain which chemicals are causing lung problems when inhaled. As a result, NIOSH advises workers to handle every chemical with great care. Below are some useful tips for workers to better protect themselves from inhaling toxic chemicals:
Flavoring Companies' Steps to Provide a Safe Working Environment
NIOSH recommends that employers of flavoring production facilities take these steps to protect their employees' health:
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.