Certain chemicals used to add flavor and aroma to food can pose serious health hazards for food industry workers, according to a recent Safety and Health Information Bulletin issued by OSHA.

“Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances: Health Effects and Hazard Control” cites the food flavoring diacetyl -- as well as some diacetyl substitutes -- as a particular concern. Diacetyl can cause health problems ranging from burns to the eyes, soreness in the nose and throat, skin irritation and even a severe lung disease that has disabled or killed workers. Known initially as “popcorn lung,” the disease was first seen among workers exposed to diacetyl during the production of low-fat, butter-flavored popcorn.

The bulletin also notes that even diacetyl substitutes may be harmful, pointing to recent laboratory studies demonstrating that such chemicals -- which often used to add flavors to snack foods, baked goods and candy -- may harm airways in animals. If workers exposed to diacetyl or substitute chemicals experience symptoms including persistent cough and shortness of breath, they are advised to ask their employers to send them to a doctor for evaluation.