‘Never ask a baker what went into a pie. Just eat.”
-George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Following on from one of our presentations at AMD in June 2019 we consider one of the more unusual roles and sources of asbestos exposure in the workplace.
In the distant past asbestos had an appealing characteristic – it prevented fires. Many businesses relied on the mineral for decades as an insulant. Baking and cooking was no exception.
As asbestos can cause mesothelioma, bakers and cooks were at risk daily. Mesothelioma is often linked to people who worked in specific trades such as construction or insulation jobs or spouses and children exposed in a second-hand manner. Bakers and pastry cooks aren’t often considered when thinking of asbestos and mesothelioma. However, anyone who worked in these trades may have been exposure to the mineral.

Whilst the numbers are low, malignant mesothelioma has been found in this group of people. They “engaged in making, baking/cooking, and selling pastry/bread,” all instances where they could have interacted with asbestos. This is because asbestos-containing material was used in some older bread-baking ovens. Asbestos often lined these ovens as a fireproofing material. By doing so, the mineral kept the flames within the oven and so not damaging any of it’s parts. Any person who worked near or with the ovens could have been exposed if asbestos fibres loosened. Additionally, there was the potential for the fibres to fall onto the bread while it was baking. Over time through lack of inspection and maintenance the asbestos linings became worn and broke down. When slamming oven doors particles of asbestos could be dislodged and disturbed and made airborne when cleaning was done at the end of a shift.

In the past we have been contacted by those who have worked in the catering industry and have subsequently been diagnosed with mesothelioma. This has included chefs who have used industrial ovens in large scale kitchens such as in factories or other industrial plant works. They have described asbestos linings in the ovens and asbestos seals round the doors that have become worn or frayed releasing particles into the atmosphere.

It seems there is no trade where asbestos has not played a part in one way or another.