Exposure to Flour Dust in South African Supermarket Bakeries: Modeling of Baseline Measurements of an Intervention Study

10 Nov 2020

Introduction: Exposure to flour dust has been reported as an important risk factor for allergic respiratory disease among bakery workers. A high prevalence of allergic sensitization and asthma was recently reported in South African supermarket bakeries. The aim of this study was to conduct a detailed exposure assessment of these bakeries so as to provide the baseline for a broader intervention study. Methods: A total of 211 full-shift personal samples were collected on randomly selected individuals within five different job categories in 18 bakeries. The samples were analyzed for particulate mass and specific flour dust allergens (wheat, rye, and fungal alpha-amylase). Exposure models were developed using job, bakery size, tasks, and specific ingredients used. Bakery and worker were regarded as random effect components. Results: Bread bakers had the highest average (geometric mean) exposures (1.33 mg m23 flour dust particulate, 13.66 mg m23 wheat allergens, and 5.14 mg m23 rye allergens). For alpha-amylase allergens, most samples were below the limit of detection for several occupational titles. In the mixed effect models, the significant predictors of elevated exposure to inhalable dust particulate as well as wheat and rye allergen concentrations were large bakery size, bread baking, and use of cereal flours, while tasks such as confectionery work were negatively correlated with these exposure metrics. Weighing tasks and use of premix products were associated with increased exposure to fungal alpha-amylase. A high correlation between particulate dust and wheat (r 5 0.84) as well as rye (r 5 0.86) was observed, with a much lower correlation between particulate dust and fungal alpha-amylase (r 5 0.33). Overall, a low proportion (39%) of bakery stores implemented various control measures to reduce dust exposures in the bakeries. Conclusions: This study confirms that current exposure control strategiesin supermarket bakery stores are inadequate in reducing dust exposures to protect the health of bakery workers.