Doctor warns of lung disease from microwave butter popcorn

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, Nutrition: Health

A pulmonary specialist at Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center thinks exposure to the fumes from microwave butter popcorn might be the cause of lung disease in one of her patients. She sent a letter to several federal agencies expressing her concerns. "We cannot be sure that this patient's exposure to butter flavored microwave popcorn from daily heavy preparation has caused his lung disease," said Dr. Cecile Rose. "However, we have no other plausible explanation."

Apparently the patient, a unidentified man, consumed "several bags of extra butter flavored microwave popcorn" every day for several years. The ailing patient's condition improved when he stopped making the popcorn.

This may sound far-fetched, but it's not. So-called "popcorn lung" is a real disease that has resulted in lawsuits by workers in food factories who were exposed to diacetyl, a chemical used to create that buttery flavor.

Her warning isn't falling upon deaf ears, either. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association has issued a statement to its members, recommending that they reduce "to the extent possible" the amount of diacetyl used in butter flavorings. Weaver Popcorn Co, a national popcorn manufacturer, is taking notice of the warning as well, replacing the butter flavoring ingredient altogether.

As a microwave popcorn aficionado, this story concerns me. I don't know about you, but we pop a lot of popcorn in my house. I have never even heard of "popcorn lung" and don't like the sounds of it one bit. Although diacetyl is approved for use in flavorings by the Food and Drug Administration, Congress is debating new safety measures for those who are exposed to diacetyl in food processing plants. But what about those who are exposed to it in their own kitchens?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.