This study assessed current health risks due to occupational exposure to coffee dust.
We performed a cross-sectional study in a coffee haulage company (n = 24), a coffee silo (n = 19), and a decaffeinating company (n = 17). Cross-shift and cross-week case histories of these employees as well as lung function values were recorded. During the handling of green coffee, measurements of airborne dust were conducted.
The employees in these workplaces were mainly affected by erythematous and rhinoconjunctival symptoms. They occurred especially in subjects exposed to a high dust load (> 10 mg of inhalable dust per cubic meter of air; n = 28) [Pearson χ2 test, p = 0.020 and p = 0.023]. IgE antibodies to green coffee and castor beans were detected in 3 workers and 10 workers, respectively. The majority of them (two employees and six employees, respectively) had shown respiratory symptoms during the past 12 months. The preshift lung function values were below average but were not dependent on the level of the inhalable coffee dust exposure. Employees with a coffee dust load > 10 mg/m3 of air showed higher unspecific bronchial responsiveness more frequently than those with lower exposures.
During the transshipment (especially during unloading) of green coffee, a high and clinically relevant exposure to irritative and sensitizing dust occurs. Therefore, efforts to reduce these dust exposures are generally recommended.