Identifying the Determinants of Exposure to Cooking-Related Airborne Pollutants, Employee Comfort and Respiratory Symptoms in Mobile Food Units: A Cross-Sectional Study

Maximea Erasmea Vigilant, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. In Harris County, Texas, Mobile Food Units (MFUs) have become very popular due to a variety of economical, technological and cultural reasons. This unique culinary trend attracts persons from different ethnicities, and provides sustainable income for MFU owners and employees. During the food preparation process, workers may be exposed to cooking-related airborne pollutants, which are potential health risks. Objective. To characterize the air environment in MFUs during the cooking process and examine associations between cooking–related airborne pollutants, determinants of employee comfort levels and the prevalence of respiratory symptoms. Methods. This was a cross-sectional study of randomly selected, unrestricted, Harris County Public Health (HCPH) permitted, MFUs. We monitored air flow at the vent hood, short-term air concentration levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM2.5) and ultrafine particles (UFP). All adult workers present on these units were invited participate in an interviewer-administered survey that consisted of demographics, a brief work history, measurement of employee comfort (tolerance to heat, temperature extremes, humidity and physical exertion), and eye and both upper and lower respiratory symptoms. Results. A total of 50 MFUs and 106 workers participated in the study. There were more trailers (n = 28) than trucks (n = 22). Air contaminant levels were most often below permissible levels, although there were a few instances (n = 3) where high carbon monoxide levels were measured. High temperatures were associated with a nearly five-fold increase in CO levels, although not statistically significant (Odds Ratio, OR = 4.78; 9% CI: 0.83–27.13). Using a griddle was associated with a nearly threefold increase in PM 2.5 (OR = 2.98; 95%CI: 0.51–17.41), but again not statistically significant. There was a high prevalence of self-reported discomfort in hot, humid environments and high physical demands. However, the main determinant of employee discomfort was increasing age. Approximately 40% of the population reported having experience one or more respiratory symptoms. The factor most strongly related to respiratory symptoms was smoking. Conclusion. MFUs did not appear to have a major negative influence on cooking-related airborne contaminant concentrations, employee comfort or respiratory symptoms. Personal factors including age and smoking status had a greater impact on employee self-reported comfort and respiratory symptoms.

Subject Area

Occupational safety|Environmental Health|Environmental Studies|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Vigilant, Maximea Erasmea, "Identifying the Determinants of Exposure to Cooking-Related Airborne Pollutants, Employee Comfort and Respiratory Symptoms in Mobile Food Units: A Cross-Sectional Study" (2018). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI10199723.