If you’ve read the ingredient label on your favorite soda bottles, snack bags or pint of ice cream, you probably noticed a series of chemical-sounding ingredients and terms like “natural and artificial flavors” or “vanilla flavoring” among others.
These flavor additives are created by flavor chemists or “flavorists”.
Flavorists use scientific and analytical tools to boost natural flavors and create new ones. They start by examining the characteristics of proteins, fats, starches, carbohydrates, natural flavors, and other components. By determining the role each component has in a particular flavor or food, they are able to test how that role is affected by additives. Flavorists are able to develop flavors that remain sharp even when put through various methods of food preparation such as processing, freezing, cooking, or boiling. These flavor additives can even smell better, have a more distinct taste, and last longer than natural flavors.1
Multiple chemicals combine to create a single flavor
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates flavoring ingredients to determine whether they are “generally recognized as safe” to be eaten.
However, minimal regulations are in place for the inhalation hazards associated with the concentrated substrates used to create these flavors.
Meaning, that although these substrates are innocuous when consumed in food, they may pose respiratory risks to flavorists in the workplace via inhalation of airborne vapors and powders.
In fact, of the thousands of flavor additives available for use today, only a handful have occupational exposure limits established by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Each flavor is comprised of a complex mixture of individual flavoring substrates that have been compounded to provide the desired taste perception. For example, the flavor humans perceive as “orange” is a complex mixture of over 100 individual substances that each contribute to the flavor as it is perceived.2
Health hazards and side effects
For various states of matter, flavoring substrates can pose respiratory hazards to workers. In liquid form, the substrate can evaporate and vapor can develop which becomes airborne. Similarly, in powder form the substrate can become airborne dust during processing and handling.
Heating of flavors is of particular concern because it increases volatility and air concentrations of flavoring substances.
In each instance, inhaling the substrate is highly irritating to the respiratory tract and microscopic particles may become lodged in the lungs.
A 2000 study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigated exposures at a microwave popcorn manufacturing plant in Missouri. A small group of former employees of the facility had developed a rare lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. A majority of those diagnosed had been exposed to mixtures of butter flavoring chemicals. The study concluded that there was “a risk for occupational lung disease in workers with inhalation exposure to butter flavoring chemicals”.
Further investigations of other workplaces have shown that employees that use or manufacture certain flavorings have developed similar health problems.
The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA), a trade association for the flavorings industry, has identified a number of flavoring substances that may have the potential to pose respiratory hazards in flavoring-manufacturing workplaces. These substances can be found in Table 2 of the linked document entitled “Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances – Health Effects and Hazard Control”.4
Even though many flavoring substances do not have established occupational exposure limits, according to OSHA employers are still required to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards and that is unlikely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Reducing flavoring substrate exposure
A variety of strategies can be used by flavorists to reduce workplace inhalation exposure to substrate vapor and dust.
Engineering controls such as spot or local exhaust ventilation and closed process vessels are commonly used during flavor compounding to control emissions. Fume hoods are commonly used in research and development laboratories.5
According to FEMA, flavoring substrates should be carefully handled to avoid the creation of airborne aerosols or particulate matter. This means that mixing, blending and other physical manipulation activities should be performed in closed systems when possible. When systems must remain open, local ventilation should be used.5
NIOSH recommends engineering safety controls as the primary method for exposure reduction. Listed below are some of their ventilation recommendations.6
- Whenever possible, use closed processes to transfer flavorings or their chemical ingredients.
- Use local exhaust ventilation of tanks and other sources of potential exposure as well as general dilution ventilation of the work area to eliminate or reduce possible worker exposures.
- Do not use respirators as the primary control for routine operations.
Engineering Safety Controls
Sentry Air Systems has provided solutions to the flavor development industry with our line of ductless filtration, air purification units.
For applications where only a liquid substrate is used, our 200 Series with activated carbon filter is a good choice for chemical adsorption. Conversely, if the application uses only powdered forms of substrate, our 200 Series with HEPA filtration is the optimal choice for particulate capture.
With airflow up to 100 CFM, the 200 Series unit pulls hazardous vapor away from the operator and into the filter chamber.
If the application uses both liquid and powdered forms of substrate, our 300 Series with stackable HEPA + Activated Carbon filtration is the best choice for both vapor adsorption and particulate extraction.
Using up to 350 CFM, the 300 Series works to remove contaminated air within the hood, pulling it into the filter chamber before recirculating the filtered air back into the ambient room air.
For bulk powder applications where large amounts of powdered substrates are transferred or handled, we recommend our Model 300 or Model 400 Portable Floor Sentry with HEPA filter.
With up to 350 CFM/700 CFM respectively, the Model 300/Model 400 portable units can easily move around a workspace and the semi-self supportive flex hose can be positioned directly in front of the source of emission.
For more information about controlling chemical fume from flavoring additives, contact Sentry Air Systems at 800.799.4609, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit our website or fill out the feedback form below.
- Education-Portal: Flavor Chemist – Salary, Job Description and Duties
- Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA): Respiratory Health and Safety in the Flavor Manufacturing Workplace
- CDC: Flavorings – Related Lung Disease
- OSHA: Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances – Health Effects and Hazard Control
- FEMA: Respiratory Health and Safety in the Flavor Manufacturing Workplace
- NIOSH: Preventing Lung Disease in Workers Who Use or Make Flavorings