A fatal accident led to a holiday whipped cream shortage


Who among us has not lifted a canister of whipped cream, poised it above their open mouths, and squeezed down on the dispenser?

Those jubilant moments may be few and far between this holiday season due to a shortage of nitrous oxide gas, manufacturers said.

Nitrous oxide keeps canned whipped toppings like Reddi-wip delectably airy when they make it to the top of the pie or become the finishing touch on a perfect mug of hot chocolate.

The gas is in short supply due to a tragic accident in August involving two gas tankers and a nitrous oxide holding tank. The tanks exploded at a loading dock in a chemical plant in Florida, killing one worker. Additionally, a supplemental facility in Canada was shut down.

Airgas, the company which owns the chemical plant, supplies nitrous oxide to Conagra Foods – the company that manufactures Reddi-wip – as well as to several other customers.

Hence, Reddi-wip was not the only whipped cream product affected: In a statement to the Washington Post, Conagra representative Lanie Freidman said that "due to an industry-wide supply issue, there is currently a shortage of some whipped toppings, including Reddi-wip ... [and] private label and competitive whipped topping."

Meanwhile, the nitrous oxide that is in circulation will be prioritized for a different use – in dentists' offices.

In addition to keeping whipped cream fresh and delicious, nitrous oxide is the compound more commonly known as "laughing gas," which is used as an inhalation anesthetic for dental procedures.

According to the World Health Organization, nitrous oxide "reduces the requirement for other more potent and intrinsically more toxic anaesthetic agents" and "has a strong analgesic action."

The Purchasing Association of Private Clubs made clear in November that "as nitrous oxide becomes available in the coming months, medical contracted applications will get priority."

Meanwhile, it added, "Conagra expects to return to normal service levels by mid-January 2017."

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

Check out some holiday foods that don't require whipped cream: