Why should homebrewers worry about chemical safety?

| November 8, 2013
Homebrewing Sanitizer and Carboy

Just like craft brewers, homebrewers must be stringent with hygiene in order to create a tasty product – but it’s equally as important to focus on chemical safety when handling cleaning and sanitizing agents (photo via Men Who Bake and Have Deep Thoughts).

Safety compliance in breweries has been questioned over the years, and is especially suspect as the craft brewing industry continues to forge ahead in membership and production. However, data shows that smaller enterprises, on average, don’t always have the same prudency as macrobreweries do when it comes to prioritizing a brewery safety culture.

Between 2003 and 2011, OSHA cited 547 violations in craft breweries – over triple the amount assigned to major players, including Coors, Pabst Brewing Company, and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Even though plenty of these violations were manufacturing-related and involved unsafe operation of equipment, inadequate guidance on cleaning and sanitization chemical safety can prove just as costly. As imbibers around the country have developed a thirst for more delectable craft beers, the population of people brewing at home has skyrocketed. Although homebrewers use less concentrated chemicals than commercial breweries, they also tend to be more casual with safety preparation; whether they’re not closely reading the manufacturer’s notes, being aware of chemical safety is critical – at home and at breweries.

Don’t just label your final brew – provide proper labeling on containers for chemical safety as well.

Phosphoric Acid NFPA Chemical Safety Label

Many sanitizers are phosphoric acids, which are deemed hazardous if mishandled. 

Like several other sanitizing agents, STAR SAN is a mixture of phosphoric and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid, which can be harmful if congested or if it comes into contact with skin or eyes. A homebrewer doesn’t need to guess what chemicals are in a particular cleaning or sanitizing solution, so long as the container has sufficient identification for its contents. Proper labeling also reduces the potential for hazardous mixing of multiple chemicals; in the case of STAR SAN, the manufacturer states that dangerous chlorine gas will be produced if it’s blended with chlorinated cleaners. This is critical when reusing sanitizer – it’s imperative to store it in a secured container away from heat and other chemicals until the next brew day. Just as it’s unlikely an educated beer enthusiast would confuse a savory stout with a crisp lager, homebrewers should always know what chemicals are in their stash, and how to handle them.

It may not be a science lab, but that’s no excuse not to wear protective equipment.

Homebrewing PPE

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is an important safety measure for handling chemicals when brewing, despite it often being shirked by homebrewers (image via Home Brewing in North East PA).

Lab coats, safety goggles, and protective rubber gloves aren’t difficult to find – just check at your neighborhood supermarket, brewing supplies store, or laboratory supply shop. Wearing PPE is the easiest and most effective way to prevent hazardous chemicals from harming brewers, as well as helping to avoid cross-contamination when tending to your malty, aromatic wort.

The largest organization for craft and homebrewers in America, the Brewers Association, responded to industry criticism by creating a safety subcommittee this summer, which advocates for education and improvements to safety culture in brewing. While this is an admirable effort to boost awareness, particular attention should also be directed towards how brewers interact with chemicals that are used to clean and sanitize equipment, even for the casual batch brewed at home. After all, an educated, chemical-safety-conscious brewing operation will result in a refreshing product. And hey, we want you crying tears of joy from a successful homebrew — not tears of agony because your eyes are burning from the phosphoric acid.


Category: Chemicals, Safety Tips

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