Indoor Air Quality Risks From America’s Favorite Breakfast Food – Cereal

Indoor Air Quality Risks From-Cereal

When the term “cereal” comes to mind, the first thought most Americans have is of the breakfast variety, when in fact, the word cereal first and foremost refers to any plant in the grass family that supplies an edible grain (1)

But as a food group, processed cereals – either instant varieties such as toasted oats and corn flakes or cooked like oatmeal and creamed wheat – are unmatched as American’s food of choice for the first meal of their day. So common are ready-to-eat cereals, they are served at 90% American breakfast tables. 

As a base for any of the grains we eat, wheat, oats, rice, and corn are the most common of these plants due to their starchy constitution. Unfortunately, the convenience afforded in eating the product is not reflected in its manufacturing. From field to table, turning grain from grass seed into the cereal we eat is anything but quick and easy. After harvesting, grains are cleaned and dried, hulled then crushed, steamed then flaked. From there, the product is toasted then packaged. And all along the way, the grain workers’ health is potentially compromised if contaminants exist and thus affect indoor air quality.

According to the EPA, potentially harmful indoor air impurities may arise in multiple ways:

Particulate matter (PM) emissions result mainly from solids handling and mixing during the milling and processing of grain, as the raw ingredients are dumped, weighed, and mixed, as the grains are hulled, and possibly during screening, drying, and packaging.  Volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions may potentially occur at almost any stage in the production of breakfast cereal, but most usually are associated with thermal processing steps, such as drying, steaming, heat treatment, cooking, toasting, extruding, and puffing. (2)

As a result, occupational exposureexists for grain workersin that potentially harmful dusts and fumes can cause health problems stemming from allergic reactions to specific occupational airborne allergens. (3) For example, BAA’s (bakery associated antigens)are known to cause short-term allergic nasal and eye irritation as well as occupational asthma. Respiratory disease arising from workplace exposure to cereal flour (“Bakers’ Asthma”) is one of the most common types of occupational asthma and may also lead to chronic bronchitis. (5) As a grain-worker subgroup, affected mill workers have long exhibited a variety of clinical symptoms including productive coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, grain fever, lung fibrosis, impairment of lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (4)

Unfortunately, workers in the grain production industry cannot avoid exposure as eliminating the source of risk, the cereal grain itself, is not an option.  But there are ways to protect personnel from the health hazards associated with cereal grain dust.  Employees should routinely wear protective equipment (such as facemasks) and clean indoor air quality(IAQ) should be maintained with vigilance.  The most successful means of guaranteeing a clean air environment is by controlling particulates via source capture and extraction. Our S-987-1 fume extractor and SP-800 dust collector are two such products that affectively eliminate impurities at the source. 

To ensure your workplace has an IAQ that is healthy for all employees, contact an AIRSInc specialist to evaluate and offer control measures for your clean air vulnerabilities. (6)