Whipped cream shortage is looming

If it is the season of pies, and of frothy hot drinks garnished with cinnamon or peppermint, then it is also the season of whipped cream dispensed in fat squirts.

But the supply of canned whipped cream, kept fluffy with nitrous oxide gas, will be leaner this year, manufacturers warned recently.

Conagra Foods, the maker of the popular Reddi-wip whipped cream, told the Boston Globe in a statement that full stocks of Reddi-wip will be "up and running by February." Meanwhile, the manufacturer encouraged whipped cream fans to "stock up early" during this "peak holiday season."

An accident in August triggered the shortage. Two gas tankers, as well as a nitrous oxide holding tank, exploded at a loading dock in an Airgas chemical plant in Florida. The explosion killed one worker. 

As the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health notes, the gas itself is "not combustible but enhances combustion of other substances."

The accident curbed production of nitrous oxide. Airgas, which bills itself as the largest North American producer of the gas, supplies nitrous oxide to several customers, including Conagra and medical clients. (The gas is the most frequently used inhalation anesthetic for dental procedures.)

In November, the Purchasing Assn. of Private Clubs told its members that Conagra halted production of Reddi-wip. "As nitrous oxide becomes available in the coming months, medical contracted applications will get priority," the notice said. "Conagra expects to return to normal service levels by mid-January 2017."

Guarino writes for the Washington Post. 

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