Sunday, September 8, 2013

Microwave Popcorn Ruins Lungs

"Popcorn lung" is an irreversible scarring of the smallest airways in the lungs. It's caused by inhaling vapors of a buttery-tasting chemical that some manufactures may be adding to their microwave popcorn.

Diacetyl is a natural compound found in cheese, butter, yogurt, and wine. It's not harmful when swallowed, but it can damage the lungs if large amounts are inhaled. Nearly all "popcorn lung" victims worked in popcorn or flavoring manufacturing facilities, where they breathed in the chemical every day. The most severe cases needed lung transplants.

Several consumers also claim to have the disease, including a middle-aged man in Colorado who inhaled the buttery steam from the two bags of popcorn he microwaved every day for 10 years "because it smells good." His $7 million award is being appealed by the supermarket chain that sold him the popcorn.

"Generally, flavor manufacturers have reduced the amount of diacetyl they use, and, in some instances, diacetyl has been replaced with other, similar flavoring substances," says John Hallagan of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association.

How can you tell if your favorite microwave popcorn contains diacetyl? You can't.

"FDA food-labeling regulations don't require the specific declaration of individual flavoring substances," notes Hallagan, "so butter-flavored microwave popcorn labels will simply list them as 'natural,' 'artificial,' or 'natural and artificial' flavors."

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you eat butter-flavored microwave popcorn and want to lower any potential risk of inhaling flavoring compounds, says Kathleen Kreiss of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "allow the bag to cool before you open it, and use a kitchen exhaust hood if you have one."

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