Small Minn. coffee roastery steamy over MNOSHA's diacetyl inspection

Custom Roasting, Inc. a small coffee roastery in Buffalo, Minn. got quite the jolt when MNOSHA slapped them with a $1,250 citation Tuesday.

The citation was issued after what the owner, Steven Olson, calls a questionable diacetyl inspection he claims OSHA blindsided him with in December. 

The inspection followed the CDC’s call for protections of coffee workers, popcorn and other food and beverage making businesses in October.

While the FDA deemed diacetyl safe to consume in trace amounts, inhaling it has proven deadly.

MNOSHA Compliance approved plans to inspect a pilot number of sites in 2016 listing those that produce coffee in bulk “most likely to be of concern.”

“The compliance focused on bulk producers, rather than local coffee shops. In comparison with popcorn, where diacetyl was most often associated with the artificial butter flavoring and any substitute products, it appears diacetyl is naturally released by the coffee beans,” wrote Shelly Techar, a MNOSHA Management Analyst, in a newsletter issued in July.

According to MNOSHA and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, diacetyl attacks and inflames the lung’s airways and can lead to bronchiolitis obliterans, a permanent and serious respiratory illness. Exposure can also cause eye and skin irritation and other respiratory illness.

“We’re not sure how he was supposed to know about this,” said Olson’s son Brandon, who serves as the warehouse manager.

The citation claims Olson’s roastery exceeds legal diacetyl levels and he did not “furnish each employee, conditions of employment, and a place of employment free from recognized hazards which caused or were likely to cause death or serious injury to employees.”

Olson has been a coffee roaster for nearly three decades. 

“I've been doing this for 28 years and I have no lung issues whatsoever,” the owner insisted.

Olson also says he only employs three people and on average he alone roasts coffee beans for two hours a day.

Olson’s citation lists his October 2016 diacetyl levels hold at 0.026 parts per million (ppm). Just barely over the short-term exposure limit which is 0.02ppm.

“It’s such a miniscule amount. We feel like we're being zeroed in on a little bit and it doesn't seem fair,” said Brandon.

The Olsons also call into question the novelty of diacetyl inspections and the amount of time spent conducting the tests in comparison to real-time, daily exposure.

“Our ventilation isn’t terrible, we have a large room, we have fans, things like that, we weren’t using them that day,” shared the son.

“If that work would’ve been done over a normal eight-hour day we go into the other room, we do some labeling, we do other things and we’re not consistently in the back warehouse roasting and grinding coffee,” the owner told Fox 9.

“From now on every employee here will have to wear a respirator,” Brandon told Fox 9 of a new requirement he considers a pricey nuisance. “The hassle of having to wear that while working here just seems a little nonsensical.”

The Olsons will file an appeal and worry the strict test could damage the family business.

OSHA declined Fox 9’s request for an on-camera interview Wednesday adding they do not comment on active investigations.

If the Olson’s request for a re-test is granted and diacetyl levels remain over the legal limit they say they are more than happy to comply and pay the citation.