At last — the weekend! Relaxed in your comfiest togs, you’re stretched out on the couch, feet up, with a great movie to watch and a big bag of buttery popcorn popping in the microwave. Bliss, right? Wrong. There’s trouble steaming in that popcorn bag if it contains an artificial butter called diacetyl, a chemical flavoring agent that imparts a buttery flavor to packaged popcorn. This fake butter has just cost three companies $7.2 million, the amount a jury awarded to 59-year old Wayne Watson who contracted bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious lung disease (AKA popcorn lung) after eating 2 bags of microwave popcorn every day for 10 years. Or to be more precise, after innocently INHALING the warm buttery vapors escaping his newly opened popcorn bags.
Diacetyl’s troubles actually started earlier, in 2000, when eight former workers at a microwave popcorn facility in Missouri developed this bronchiolitis obliterans that was finally traced to their inhalation of the volatile butter-flavoring ingredient. In 2004 the government issued health alerts for workers exposed to diacetyl and in 2011 drafted a guidance document suggesting exposure limits for workers. Inflaming and scarring airways, the irreversible lung disease severely restricts airflow, in Watson’s case by 60%. The only treatment is a lung transplant.
Like many Americans, you may love popcorn. In addition to its crunchy yumminess, it’s a nutritious, inexpensive snack food. So, you think, all you have to do is check the microwave popcorn labels and steer clear of any chemical butter called diacetyl. Simple enough. Except it isn’t. Chances are you won’t find diacetyl listed on any labels. Not because it isn’t inside that package, but because it comes under the heading of “natural and artificial flavoring” and there’s no law requiring popcorn makers to identify any of those flavors. On top of that, in 1980 the FDA declared diacetyl to be a food substance “generally recognized as safe.” At that time popcorn lung wasn’t known to exist. And it perhaps escaped the agency’s later scrutiny because diacetyl’s ill effects came from respiration not ingestion. The FDA has recently indicated, however, that a review of the substance is underway.
In the meantime, when the popcorn bug bites, pop your own corn. It’s pretty much a snap to make and with zero chemicals, preservatives or faux flavors, there’s no contest whatsoever in the flavor department. Here are two equally simple recipes — one made on top of the stove and the other in the microwave. For added zest, toss in your favorite seasonings, maybe a little curry, some garlic powder, sesame seeds, Parmesan cheese or shredded coconut, or for some delightful decadence — chocolate chips.
Further questionable food Ingredients:
- So How Much Wood Pulp Did You Eat Today?
- Hair, Beetles and Beaver Anal Glands in Our Food
- Is Your Steak Cemented Together with Meat Glue?
- Bogus “Natural” Cereals Booted Off Store Shelves
- Foods Containing Beaver Anal Glands: Don’t Ask!
- Poisoning Poultry with Arsenic Ends in Maryland