If it is the season of pumpkin and pecan pies, and of frothy 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 creams, kept fluffy with nitrous oxide gas, will be leaner this year, manufacturers warned recently.
Conagra Foods, the makers of the popular Reddi-wip whipped cream, told the Boston Globe in a statement that the full stocks of Reddi-wip will be "up and running by February." Meanwhile, the manufacturers encouraged whipped cream fans to "stock up early" during this "peak holiday season."
A tragic accident in August triggered the whipped cream 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. A Florida State Fire Marshal told Fox 10 the body of the Airgas employee was found some 50 to 75 feet from the loading bay. Airgas confirmed to the Pensacola News Journal that an employee had died, but did not release the name of the victim.
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 nitrous oxide production. Airgas, which bills itself as the largest North American producer of the gas, supplies nitrous oxide to several customers, including Conagra and medical clients.
In November, the Purchasing Association 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," went the notice, "Conagra expects to return to normal service levels by mid-January 2017."
(The gas is the most frequently used inhalation anesthetic for dental procedures. Nitrous oxide "has impressive safety" and is "excellent" for sedating apprehensive patients, wrote a pair of dentists in the journal Anethesia Progress.)
Reports of the shortage stretched from Middle America to New England. A Hy-Vee supermarket in Omaha displayed a sign that read, "All canned whip toppings will be in short supply this season due to a national nitrous oxide shortage," according to the Omaha World-Herald. Near Boston, a Market Basket also warned shoppers of an "Aero Whipped Cream- Shortage."
The Boston-area sign indicated that shipments of nitrous oxide were en route from Europe, but, echoing the purchasing association, that medicinal nitrous oxide would be resupplied first.