Americans love their pets. And though the statistics stating the numbers of domestic pets vary wildly, from 180 million dogs and cats from one source to just under 150 million reported by another, there is no disputing that there are a lot of them living amongst – and being fed by – us. With so many animals, a large workforce is necessary to produce the food necessary to feed all those furry friends. And similar to production facilities that make food for us to eat, there are potential health and safety risks for those who work in pet food manufacturing. (1)
Developed by an English businessman, processed “pet food” began with the simple dog biscuit, with the first commercial product sold around 1860. Before then, cats and dogs ate whatever their owners ate or were given parts of the meal that their owners didn’t want, usually in the form of table scraps. Today, there is a multitude of pet food varieties sold by numerous companies, all of which begin with a simple recipe of ingredients that are mixed, cooked, or baked, then packaged for sale. In order to sell a branded pet food product, companies must comply with stringent health and safety requirements. And just as commercial recipes must meet certain standards for the health of the animals, facilities that produce pet food products must follow strict indoor air quality standards to keep their production workers safe.
The most significant occupational hazards associated with the pet food industry stem from particulate dust. Dry pet food, for example, creates the same indoor air quality concerns that bread grains and cereals do, namely airborne particles creating a risk of combustion and worker dust inhalation. (2)
Grain dust explosions are often catastrophic events. Particulate matter is highly combustible in any environment where dust accumulates, and heat is present. (1) A combustion is a rapid event, one that occurs when particulates are suspended in the air, often in an enclosed location. These explosive events can occur anywhere that grain dust – such as the type created from manufacturing dry kibble – is present in combination with various ignitable sources such as uncontrolled heat and oxygen.
The other main health and safety risk facing those in the industry is grain dust inhalation. The dust produced often contains contaminants and additives within the dust, such as bacteria, fungal spores, and residue from pesticides. The symptoms of pet food dust inhalation include wheezing, chest tightness, productive cough, eye, and nasal irritation, and symptoms of chronic respiratory disease. Studies have demonstrated that exposure can create severe respiratory distress such as asthma and other breathing disorders. (3)
Most pet food manufacturers follow stringent measures when it comes to preventing contamination and ensuring clean air for their workers (4) Employers who safeguard their workplace do so by following these OSHA guidelines, below:
• Maintain vigilant cleaning and sanitization practices
• Require workers to wear masks and protective clothing when in the presence of grain dust
• Employ preventative maintenance measures such as keeping grain moist, monitoring heat and maintaining
IAQ (indoor air quality)
• Install dust ventilation and air cleaning systems (such as dust collection equipment)
Employers can prevent explosions and dust inhalation from occurring at the outset by simply adopting and maintaining a rigorous program of proactive protective measures.
At AIRSInc., we help our customers in the pet food industry by identifying areas of potential risk and supplying them with stellar air cleaning products to implement their safety programs. Call us today for a free estimate with one of our skilled and experienced clean air specialists.