Cryogenic chemicals liquid nitrogen, liquid carbon dioxide (CO2 and solid CO2 (Dry Ice) are often used in food processing, which includes grinding, mixing, coating, freezing, and packaging foods. Food processors use these liquids to produce a variety of foods, such as meat, poultry, baked goods, and prepackaged meals. 

Cryo-mechanical freezing utilizes liquid nitrogen to prevent moisture loss and minimize food damage. Cryogenic freezing tunnels and immersion freezers freeze the outer surface of products, preserve moisture, help prevent microbial growth that can lead to food spoilage, and maintain the foods’ original freshness and texture.

While the benefits of using cryogenic chemicals are numerous, it is vital to understand their unique properties and potential hazards to ensure that appropriate safety precautions are always taken.

USPOULTRY has worked closely with the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) over the past two years regarding an ongoing investigation of an incident associated with cryogenic chemicals. CSB is completing its analyses and preparing its findings and recommendations, scheduled for release in a final report in early 2023. 

As a result of the incident under investigation, USPOULTRY has forged a close working relationship with industry safety professionals, various federal agencies, and the National Association of SARA Title III Program Officials that is made up of members and staff of State Emergency Response Commissions, Tribal Emergency Response Commissions, and Local Emergency Planning Committees, to develop resources that are meant to inform and educate industry and community emergency planning personnel and first responders on cryogenic chemicals and emergency response actions. The partnership will release these resources in 2023. 

There are many benefits of emergency action planning between poultry processors, local emergency planning committees, and emergency first responders. It is unreasonable to assume that regional emergency planning and response personnel will understand the potential hazards of an accidental chemical release of these materials in a poultry facility. Facilities willing to cooperate and coordinate with emergency planning and response professionals can facilitate a process that provides the community with a broader understanding of potential hazards. 

Collaborating with emergency planning and response professionals can give poultry facilities a better sense of the accident preparedness capabilities available within their community. It also can assist communities with identifying capability gaps, ultimately contributing to minimizing an accident's consequences.

While the CSB continues to analyze data for its final report, there are items the poultry industry and all industries that use cryogenic chemicals can focus on to facilitate using these chemicals safely. Maintaining inspection and testing programs for cryogenic liquid freezers and associated equipment is one of them. These programs should include routine and preventive maintenance intervals and equipment testing to include key safety features. Safety management systems that focus on employee training, auditing, and risk analysis of cryogenic chemical systems is another item. Adequate ventilation and air monitoring in areas where cryogenic equipment is in operation is an additional item. Finally, the development of industry guidance resources provides workers with education on the safe operation of equipment and emergency response protocol to cryogenic chemical releases.  

Matt Spencer is director, HR & Safety Programs, for USPOULTRY.