Foods That Can Irritate the Lungs (COSHH)

COSHH is mainly focused on controlling substances that can be hazardous to workers’ health in the workplace. While COSHH is more often associated with chemical substances, dust, fumes, and biological agents that could pose respiratory hazards, it doesn’t specifically regulate or list foods that can irritate the lungs. However, the principles of minimising exposure to potential irritants and managing health risks are still applicable in food manufacturing workplaces.

In this post, we’ll look at substances and scenarios in the context of food handling or processing that could potentially irritate the lungs, keeping in line with a broad interpretation of COSHH principles:

Flour Dust

In bakeries and kitchens, airborne flour dust can cause respiratory issues, including occupational asthma, known as baker’s asthma. It’s a recognized hazard in the baking industry.


This chemical, used in flavourings for its butter-like taste, can be found in microwave popcorn manufacturing plants and places where artificial butter flavouring is used. Exposure to diacetyl fumes has been associated with bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious lung disease.


As preservatives in foods and beverages (e.g., dried fruits, wine), sulphites can become airborne during cooking or processing. Inhalation can irritate the lungs, especially in individuals with asthma.

Fish and Seafood Proteins

In seafood processing environments, proteins can become airborne and act as allergens, potentially causing respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals.

Spices and Flavouring Dusts

Workers in food processing plants that handle spices and flavourings may inhale fine particles, which can lead to respiratory irritation or occupational asthma.

Coffee Processing Dust

Those involved in roasting, grinding, or handling coffee beans might be exposed to coffee dust, which over time can cause lung irritation and, in some cases, lead to occupational asthma.

Animal Dander

In certain meat processing or dairy operations where live animals are kept, exposure to animal dander and proteins can cause respiratory issues for sensitive individuals.

Why COSHH is Important?

COSHH aims to protect workers from health risks arising from work activities that involve hazardous substances. By assessing, controlling, and minimising exposure, COSHH helps prevent occupational diseases and conditions.

Legal Compliance

COSHH is a legal requirement in the UK. Employers are legally obligated to follow these regulations to ensure the safety of their employees. Failure to comply can result in legal penalties for businesses.

Promotes a Safe Working Environment

By implementing COSHH guidelines, workplaces become safer for employees, visitors, and the surrounding community. It fosters a culture of safety and health awareness.

Prevents Occupational Illnesses

Many hazardous substances can cause serious health problems, including occupational asthma, skin diseases, and even cancer. COSHH helps identify risks and implement controls to prevent these outcomes.

Economic Benefits

Following COSHH regulations can reduce absenteeism due to illness, increasing overall productivity.

How to Continue Learning about COSHH

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Website

The HSE is the governing body responsible for the enforcement of health and safety legislation in the UK, including COSHH. Their website offers a huge wealth of resources.

COSHH Training Courses

Essential Food Hygiene offer low-cost COSHH training courses. Our course is a comprehensive online COSHH course, with an exam. It’s fully accredited by CPD Group, and the course takes an average of just 2 hours to complete. Once completed, learners will gain a certificate. Employers can use our EU and UK legally compliant training as evidence of due diligence.