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Reducing dust and allergen exposure in bakeries

1 Health and Safety Executive, Science Division, Buxton, SK179JN, UK
2 Formerly Health and Safety Executive, Science Division, Buxton, SK179JN, UK

Topical Section: Allergic asthma

Bakers have a continuing high incidence of occupational allergic asthma. In factory bakeries they are exposed not only to flour dust containing allergens, but also improvers whose ingredients enhance the strength and workability of the dough and its speed of rising. Improvers are flour-based but can contain added soya, fungal or bacterial enzymes that are also allergenic, as well as vegetable oil, calcium sulphate/silicate and organic esters. This study investigated the dustiness of the components used in factory bakeries and whether altering improver ingredients could reduce dust and allergen exposure. A standardised rotating drum test was employed on the individual components, as well as a representative improver and three practicable improver modifications by decreasing calcium sulphate, calcium silicate or increasing oil content. Levels of dust, the allergens wheat flour amylase inhibitor (WAAI) and soya trypsin inhibitor (STI) were measured in the generated inhalable, thoracic and respirable sized fractions. A “scooping and pouring” workplace simulation was also performed. Initial tests showed that dustiness of several wheat flours was relatively low, and even lower for soya flour, but increased in combination with some other improver components. All three improver modifications generally reduced levels of dust, STI and WAAI, but increasing oil content significantly decreased dust and STI in comparison to the standard improver and those improvers with reduced calcium silicate or sulphate. The simulation demonstrated that increased oil content reduced inhalable levels of gravimetric dust, STI and WAAI. Changing improver formulation, such as increasing oil content of flour by a small amount, may represent a simple, practical method of reducing bakery workers’ exposure to dust and allergens where improvers are used. It may be a useful adjunct to engineering control, changes to work practices and appropriate training in reducing the risk to bakers’ respiratory health.
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