Kenneth H. Brown, Ph.D., Chemical Consultant
Case Synopsis: LF, a spice and seasonings distributor, receives raw materials from CAP in order to custom blend a seasoning mix according to manufacturing directions from CAP. CAP provides the formulation, and the processing directions, as well as has the raw materials shipped directly to LF. A batch of the seasoning mix produced by LF was left in their warehouse overnight and was found to be smoldering in the morning. The pallet of 100-pound poly-boxes of 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, resulting in a loss exceeding $2 million dollars-worth of product and a total loss of the building.
Expert Analysis: Counsel for LF filed a lawsuit against CAP 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 found that it is well-known 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.