Last week’s fatal blast at a Pennsylvania chocolate factory highlighted the combustibility of food plants in general and chocolate making in particular.
The powerful explosion at 75-year-old R.M. Palmer Co. — which makes chocolate eggs, bunnies, bars, coins and other treats — killed seven, sent 10 to the hospital and damaged several other buildings in West Reading, a small town 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, where it has long had a factory.
Local, state and federal investigations are ongoing. Pennsylvania State Police said “everything’s on the table,” as fire marshals try to pinpoint the origin and cause. Some workers told relatives they smelled natural gas before the blast, although the gas utility UGI said it received no reports of a gas leak.
In general, commercial ovens and furnaces, commercial refrigerant using ammonia and combustible dust produced by ingredients like cocoa powder and corn starch are primary explosive hazards at food plants, according to Holly Burgess, technical lead for industrial and chemical safety at the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit group that produces hundreds of codes and standards.
See also: Jumbled wreckage complicates U.S. chocolate factory blast probe