Illnesses Related to Grinding and Roasting Coffee

If you grind and roast coffee in commercial quantities you may be at risk of respiratory diseases. Illnesses related to grinding and roasting coffee are asthma and obliterative bronchiolitis. It has long been known that coffee related asthma comes from coffee dust and occasionally from contaminants such as castor bean dust. More recently scientists have discovered that a disabling lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by exposure to chemicals produced when coffee is roasted and ground. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides information regarding lung diseases related to grinding and roasting coffee on its web site.

Occupational asthma was thought to be the main respiratory risk for workers in coffee processing facilities. Previous studies identified green and roasted coffee bean dusts and castor bean dusts from contaminated shipping bags as. Asthmagens are substances that can cause asthma. In 2013, a severe lung disease called obliterative bronchiolitis was reported in former workers of a coffee processing facility that roasted, ground, and flavored coffee.

Obliterative bronchiolitis is a severe, non-reversible lung disease that involves scarring of the very small airways called bronchioles in a patchy distribution throughout the lung. Symptoms may include cough, shortness of breath on exertion, and/or wheeze.

The chemicals created when roasting coffee which in turn cause bronchiolitis obliterans are diacetyl 2,3-butanedione and 2,3-Pentanedione. These chemicals are used as flavoring agents in other foods such as microwave popcorn and are known causes of lung disease. In the case of coffee the chemicals are created when coffee is roasted. When roasted coffee is ground the total surface area of the coffee is hugely increased allowing the release of substantially more of these chemicals to the surrounding air. If you are roasting and grinding coffee at home this is not an issue because the amounts are so tiny. However, if you are roasting and grinding coffee in a commercial setting you may be at risk for developing irreversible lung disease characterized by a chronic cough and shortness of breath.

Air Sampling to Prevent Illnesses Related to Grinding and Roasting Coffee

The only way to know if you or your workers are at risk of illnesses related to grinding and roasting coffee is to sample the air in the work place. NIOSH suggests that if you suspect a problem that workers wear respirators until the air is checked. If air levels of these chemicals are too high workplace ventilation must be improved and the air retested until levels are at a safe level before workers remove their masks.

If elevated levels of diacetyl (2,3-butanedione) or 2,3-pentanedione are detected in workplace air, interventions should be put in place to reduce the levels. The effectiveness of these interventions should be verified by follow-up air sampling. Serial air sampling for diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione can help evaluate the impact of interventions on exposures and identify where to prioritize any future interventions. In 2015, NIOSH published a best practices document that describes work interventions such as engineering controls, work practices, and exposure monitoring for occupational exposures to diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione (NIOSH 2015).


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