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Fire At Food Processing Plant Causes Major Damages

By: Dr. Kenneth Brown

Tel: 847-475-3545
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Lindholm Foods, a spice and seasonings distributor, receives raw materials from Cassidy Agricultural Products to custom blend a seasoning mix according to manufacturing directions from Cassidy. Cassidy provides the formulation and the processing directions, and has the raw materials shipped directly to Lindholm Foods. A batch of 100 pound boxes of packaged seasoning mix produced by Lindholm Foods was left in their warehouse overnight and was found to be smoldering in the morning. The pallet of smoldering 100-pound poly-boxes of the seasoning blend was moved to just outside the building, whereupon it ignited and engulfed in flames the nearby outside stored drums of other food products, ultimately causing the building itself to catch fire. The entire building and its contents burned to the ground, causing loss exceeding $2 Million dollars worth of product and total loss of the building.


The attorney for Lindholm Foods filed a lawsuit against Cassidy Agricultural Products for selling them hazardous and defective products. An expert witness who specialized in chemical products was retained by the attorney to determine the cause of the fire. The expert examined all the raw materials that went into the seasoning blend as well as the formulation and directions for processing the seasonings. The raw materials that make up the formulation of the seasoning blend are onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, salt and lime (calcium oxide). The expert knew that calcium oxide reacts with water exothermically; that is, the reaction gives off heat. This reaction can produce enough heat to ignite nearby materials. Each of the other raw materials that are in the formulation of the seasoning blend were found to contain between 5%-12% water, as per their Certificate of Analysis.

The process used to produce the seasoning blend involves mixing of the raw materials in a ribbon blender to provide a homogeneous mixture. This mixture is then immediately packaged as 100 pounds in poly-lined boxes. It had been observed by production staff at Lindholm Foods that there was a rise in temperature of the blend upon mixing. And that the packaged materials were often warm when placed on pallets for storage.

The expert determined that upon mixing the garlic powder, the onion powder, the black pepper, the salt, and the lime, there was present enough water from each of these ingredients to react with the calcium oxide (lime) For a batch of 2,000 pounds of seasoning mix, there could be as much as 120 pounds of water. These 120 pounds of water was thus available to react with the 400 pounds of lime to create a large amount of heat from the exothermic reaction of water + calcium oxide.

The expert was able to write a report of opinion that the cause of the smoldering that was found on the pallet of packaged seasoning mix was due to the reaction of the water in the four raw material ingredients, when mixed with the calcium oxide (lime). The chemical reaction is shown by CaO + H2O → Ca(OH)2 + HEAT. The heat is produced because this is an exothermic reaction, i.e., gives off heat. The amount of heat is dependent on the type of chemical reaction, but also on the amount of the CaO and H2O that are available to react. In this case, we have approximately 120 lbs. of water reacting with 400 lbs. of calcium oxide. The amount of heat produced can be expected to be substantial, and enough to ignite materials in the seasoning mixture of the packaging materials. That the material was smoldering in the center of the pallet is due to the heat not being able to be dissipated. When the pallet of smoldering materials was taken outside of the warehouse, and in the presence of fresh air and wind, the materials ignited from the fresh source of oxygen fuel.


The expert report of the chemical expert witness was presented to Cassidy Agricultural Products during the discovery phase of the lawsuit. They realized that they had not provided information about the fire hazard that could result from the formulation that they provided, along with the processing directions for Lindholm Foods to follow. A favorable settlement to cover the cost of the lost seasoning blends as well as the lost building was provided to Lindholm Foods.


Cassidy Agricultural Products began to produce the raw material spice ingredients with only a trace of water present, albeit at a higher price. This would provide blenders like Lindholm Foods with a safer source of raw materials. It was also recommended that upon blending the spice raw materials, that the mixture be allowed to sit for a longer period of time before packaging; this would allow the heat of reaction from water plus lime to dissipate before being placed in poly-boxes onto pallets. Since that time there have been no incidents of over heated seasoning blends at Lindholm Foods.

Dr. Kenneth H. Brown is a recognized expert witness and consultants on matters relating to, among other things, Industrial Chemicals, Household Chemicals, Paint and Coatings, Adhesives and Sealants, Solvents, Fumes, Hazardous Materials, Aerosols and Spray Products, Labels and Warning, Toxic Substances, Polymers / Resins / Plastics, MSDS Review, Flammable chemicals, Laboratory testing and Analysis, Failure Analysis, Propellants, Chemical Spills, and Chemical Accidents

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