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August gas plant explosion causes Christmas shortage of whipped cream across USA

21 December 2016

An explosion that killed one worker at the Airgas plant near Pensacola, Florida, on August 28, has resulted in a country-wide shorted of canned whipped cream and other popular toppings over the Christmas break, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The explosion destroyed two tankers and a large tank containing nitrous oxide, which is used as a preservative and a propellant in canned whipped products.

Airgas, part of the French Air Liquide group, is the largest North American producer of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. Other than the food industry, the company also supplies the gas to  medical clients, who use it as an anaesthetic. Airgas is prioritising shipments to the medical sector over other users.

In November, food giant Conagra halted production of its Reddi-wip brand of whipped cream because of the shortage of the gas. The company said it expected to return to normal service levels by mid-January 2017.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says nitrous oxide is not combustible itself but enhances combustion of other substances.

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