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Troubled food-additives maker ending local operations

April 6, 2016

Sensient Flavors LLC, a food-additives manufacturer that moved most of its local operations to Chicago in 2014, has decided to leave Indianapolis altogether.

In a notice to the state posted Wednesday, Sensient officials said they planned to permanently close the company’s food-additives plant at 5600 W. Raymond St., ending employment for 86 remaining local workers.

The employee terminations are set to begin July 29 and be completed by the end of the year, the company disclosed in a letter to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. The decision was made for “strategic business reasons,” the letter said.

Among the employees are 59 workers represented by Teamsters Local Union 135.

Milwaukee-based parent Sensient Technologies Corp. disclosed plans in February 2013 to move the corporate headquarters of Sensient Flavors from Indianapolis to Hoffman Estates, Illinois, costing roughly 125 of the 200-plus workers at the facility their jobs. The move was completed in 2014.

Sensient Flavors once was a private Indianapolis-based company known as Universal Group Ltd. before it was acquired by Milwaukee-based Universal Foods Corp. in 1985. Universal Foods changed its name to Sensient Technologies in 2000.

Sensient’s recent history in Indianapolis has been troubled by ongoing litigation with federal health authorities over health risks at the plant.

Federal regulators specializing in chronic-disease prevention began investigating the west-side plant in 2008 over its use of a compound called diacetyl. Diacetyl is used in foods to create a buttery taste, but the additive has fallen out of favor with many food manufacturers—especially popcorn makers—because of a possible link to lung disease from prolonged exposure to its vapors.

Later on, a federal health study found that nearly a third of the production workers at the local Sensient plant had abnormally restrictive lung function.

Sensient filed several lawsuits against the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Indiana OSHA, claiming it had been “harassed and intimidated” and “subjected to enormous intrusions” that violated its constitutional rights.

The company settled the case in 2012 after Indiana OSHA issued 37 citations for a total of $367,500. Under the settlement, Sensient paid a reduced fine of $99,000 and agreed to reduce or eliminate its use of diacetyl.

State officials said the company installed an estimated $4 million in engineering upgrades to protect workers from potentially deadly chemicals.

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