The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed microwave popcorn safe for human consumption. The Popcorn Institute, a trade association of processors of popcorn, has worked with the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), to gather and disseminate information to the popcorn processing industry on workplace and consumer product safety, and to make any and all research available on topics such as workplace safety, safe handling of ingredients, etc., available to the industry at-large.
In 2001, the Institute became aware that workers at a microwave popcorn manufacturing facility had been diagnosed in 2000 with a rare, obstructive lung disease, known as bronchiolitis obliterans, which is characterized by inflammation and scarring in the smallest airways of the lungs, and often leads to severe breathing difficulties.
Subsequent research by NIOSH indicated that one possible cause for the airway impairment in microwave popcorn plant workers – particularly those in mixing room facilities -- was exposure to diacetyl. Diacetyl is a naturally-occurring chemical in bay and other oils, beer, butter, coffee, vinegar, and other food products, and is an ingredient that gives the flavor of butter to an artificial butter flavoring used in microwave popcorn. NIOSH’s research suggested that frequent breathing of diacetyl in the air -- without protective manufacturing controls, ventilation and use of personal protective equipment -- could expose workers to potential health risks.
In this context, in July 2007, a letter was sent to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) reporting a situation involving a consumer exhibiting altered lung function. To our knowledge, issues of causation remain unresolved and we are not aware of any other instances in individuals who are not microwave popcorn plant workers. This single incident is still under investigation.
Popcorn processors, along with NIOSH, OSHA and EPA, continue to research possible effects of exposure to diacetyl and to monitor all related developments to insure workplace and consumer safety with respect to microwave popcorn products.
These efforts on the part of the popcorn processing industry to work collaboratively - as an industry and with government food, health, safety and regulatory agencies - to produce a safe, quality product for consumers to enjoy will continue as the issues relating to diacetyl are explored and resolved.