This year, Christmas feasts across the country were missing one of the single most important parts of any holiday dessert spread — Reddi-wip. Thanks to a nationwide shortage of nitrous oxide, manufacturers of aerosol whipped creams announced earlier this year that they would not be able to keep up with the demand come the holiday season.
Nitrous oxide is a critical ingredient in any can of whipped cream. While it is more commonly known as “laughing gas” for its use as a relaxing agent and pain reliever while patients are getting their teeth pulled, it also acts as a propellant to push the cream out of the can and a preservative to keep the food product from going bad.
On August 28, the Airgas nitrous oxide plant in Florida experienced a fatal explosion that killed one facility worker. The incident is still under investigation, but according to a spokesperson, in meantime the company’s nitrous oxide supply has been severely limited.
State officials believe that the explosion was the result of an accident on the plant’s loading dock, where two semi-trucks were holding nitrous oxide. Jon Moore, communications coordinator at the Office of Chief Financial Officer, reported that he couldn’t confirm if the blast happened during the transfer process.
Each year, approximately 16,000 chemical spills occur out of trucks, trains, and storage tanks, typically during the transfer of materials.
Shortly after the incident, in a written statement, Airgas reported that one of its employees was killed, though it did not release the individual’s name.
“We have learned that one associate has died as a result of the incident,” the statement said. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of a member of our Airgas family. Our sincere condolences and thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of this associate.”
Sadly, injuries and fatalities like this one are all too common in plants and facilities where the proper safety precautions are not in place. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly three million non-fatal work injuries and 4,821 fatal work injuries in 2014. In 2015, the number of fatal injuries increased slightly to 4,836.
Reddi-wip, a household brand of the popular dessert topping, relied on Airgas for its nitrous oxide supply. Company spokesperson Lanie Friedman encouraged consumers to stock up on their Reddi-wip supply early this year.
“It’s in stores now, but we’re encouraging people to buy it early,” Friedman said. “There will be a shortage if people buy at the typical levels during the holidays.”
As many as 90% of American households regularly indulge in a sweet, frozen treat, and may become disappointed in the coming months at the lack of available whipped topping.