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OSHA Moving Closer to Establishing Regulations for Diacetyl

May 26, 2009

Despite express statements to the contrary, the Obama administration appears ready to take regulatory action later this year on diacetyl in the workplace, regardless of whether it is used as a chemical additive in flavorings or occurs naturally in the food manufacturing process.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration last week unveiled a potential, but not yet proposed, version of diacetyl regulation at a small business panel attended by Clay Detlefsen, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs, and Charles Schroeder of DairyChem Inc., a flavorings company. OSHA held the two-day panel in compliance with the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Act, also known as SBREFA, which ensures that small businesses are able to provide their perspective early in a regulatory process.

IDFA nominated DairyChem as a SBREFA participant, and Schroeder provided his perspective regarding the preparation of starter distillates and their subsequent use in dairy processing applications. IDFA will submit joint comments with Schroeder this week.

"During the SBREFA panel, it became fairly certain that the dairy industry is going to be regulated under a diacetyl standard unless we can show with hard data that diacetyl is not a problem," said Detlefsen. "In particular, we need to show that naturally occurring diacetyl is not volatizing to the workplace atmosphere.

"We are concerned that any regulatory actions could have a significant impact on the dairy industry, because many cultured products contain naturally occurring diacetyl and other dairy products contain diacetyl added as a flavoring," Detlefsen added. "That said, the ice cream industry and fluid milk operations that do not culture should be able to avoid being included in a regulation if we continue to engage OSHA and justify the exclusions."

Diacetyl has come under greater scrutiny over the last few years because it has been associated with a severe lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, among some workers from microwave popcorn plants and in flavor and extract manufacturing facilities. OSHA and others are concerned that similar conditions may exist in other workplaces. Diacetyl poses no health risks for consumers who eat products containing it. The health risk is associated with inhaling diacetyl that has been heated to temperatures over 100 degrees.

Despite other options, Detlefsen expects a proposed rule would establish a permissible exposure limit (PEL) and call for all affected companies to conduct an exposure assessment. Companies that can demonstrate that they have less that one-half PEL will then fall out, while those that are at one-half of the PEL or higher will need to employ mitigation strategies and monitor their workplaces.

To develop evidence to exonerate facilities and the industry from OSHA's presumption that diacetyl may be a problem in dairy workplaces, Detlefsen encourages operations producing cultured products, especially those using artificial diacetyl as an additive, to strongly consider participating now in OSHA-sponsored site visits. These visits, which would be conducted by OSHA's contractor, Eastern Research Group, would definitely establish diacetyl levels or their absence in dairy facilities.

"While other options for testing have been identified, including a project by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, I was impressed by the report prepared by ERG on diacetyl in one bakery. It very carefully kept the company name and even the products masked," Detlefsen said. "And if members agree to participate now, there will be no cost to them. If they wait until new regulations require them to participate in an exposure audit, they will have to pay for it and will have to measure levels in each and every regulated facility."

For more information, contact Detlefsen at or 202-220-3554.


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