Fake butter could be making workers sick

Popcorn: Courtesy Saffanna

Artificial flavoring is a big part of our food industry whether we like it or not. But the use of one chemical might be causing a potentially fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, in the workers who handle it. Investigators have found an alarmingly high number of cases of this disease in Midwestern popcorn workers and have linked it to the cheap flavoring diacetyl. Diacetyl helps to give the popcorn a butter flavor.

Scientists at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and industry leaders are clashing over what should be done. This report on the industry's reactions to safety claims outlines how science is never a fixed standard. Everyone in this issue seems to disagree: the industry scientists, health officials, workers.

What do you think?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think thats pretty freaky!!! but cool in a way lol!;)

posted on Fri, 04/28/2006 - 5:12pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The thought that we can keep adding foreign chemicals into our bodies with no repercussions is absurd. If something is known to be unsafe, it shouldn't be allowed, even in "tiny" quantities - quantities which ultimately add up to much more.

posted on Fri, 04/28/2006 - 4:50pm
bryan kennedy's picture

True. Just so I am clear, the workers are getting sick from breathing the substance into their lungs. They aren't eating the substance. The chemical doesn't cause this disease if you eat it.

posted on Fri, 04/28/2006 - 5:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i agree i think the penuttbutter is being breathed in not eaten

posted on Sat, 04/29/2006 - 2:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Your statement that diacetyl, when ingested, is safe, is patently absurd. Diacetyl's cause of damage to the lungs is more than likely linked to it's reactivity with arginine. For just one of the systems affected, Arginine is a required amino acid in the Nitric Oxide system that is part of the protective process of the human body for the lungs. It is likely that every exposure to diacetyl causes miniscule damage to the lungs. The reason that most people to not get recognizably ill from these small exposures is that we have a great deal of lung surface tissue. Over time it could contribute to an increasing decline of oxygen uptake that we routinely identify as part of aging.

posted on Mon, 08/21/2006 - 12:01pm
bryan kennedy's picture

I am far from an expert in this area so I can't contest or support your claims that ingesting diacetyl could be harmful. This substance is produced naturally in certain fermentation processes and can be found in some, "buttery" California Chardonnay wines. However, none of that means its safe or not, I just couldn't find any other evidence that eating it is making people sick.

That being said, breathing it definitely is! This story focuses on the worker hazard.

Do you have more information on the possible danger of this substance being used in foods? I would be interested in learning more. Thanks for your information above.

posted on Mon, 08/21/2006 - 1:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

submitted by Tayler Greger on sat, 4/29/2006-6:00

I love eating popcorn. Its so good . I could eat it every day . But not for every meal.

posted on Sat, 04/29/2006 - 6:01pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Well, in some more unsettling news, it looks like the FDA isn't really interested in finding out whether this stuff is harmful to consumers or not.

When we microwave this popcorn the diacetyl is released into the surrounding air, potentially causing a hazard to those who breath it in. Is it enough to be worried about? Well, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) don't seem interested in finding out. According to Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California:

"Multiple agencies appear to have simply passed the buck" on diacetyl, he said, "and as a result we still don't know if the average consumer should be worried."

Get the full story on diacetyl as a consumer risk.

posted on Tue, 09/05/2006 - 1:43pm
meagain46's picture
meagain46 says:

correct me if i'm wrong... but aren't we breathing this stuff when we are cooking & eating it..? and if it's bad to breathe... how can it be good for us to eat..?

posted on Tue, 10/03/2006 - 2:26pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

When I eat microwave popcorn, my hands and wrists turn red and start burning. My hands also shrivel up like an older person's hands when I eat microwave popcorn.

posted on Wed, 04/25/2007 - 8:09pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Safety data for 2,3-butanedione

Synonyms: diacetyl, biacetyl
Molecular formula: C4H6O2
CAS No: 431-03-8
EINECS No: 207-069-8
Physical data
Appearance: liquid with a butter-like odour
Melting point: -2 to -4 C
Boiling point: 88 C
Vapour density: 3 (air = 1)
Vapour pressure: 52 mm Hg at 20 C
Density (g cm-3):
Flash point: 6 C
Explosion limits:
Autoignition temperature:
Water solubility:
Stable. Flammable. Incompatible with acids, strong bases, metals, reducing agents, oxidizing agents. Protect from moisture and water. Note low flashpoint.
Harmful if swallowed. Skin, eye and respiratory irritant.
Toxicity data
(The meaning of any abbreviations which appear in this section is given below.)
ORL-RAT LD50 1580 mg kg-1 = oral-rat, lethal dose 50 percent kill
ORL-MUS LD50 250 mg kg-1 = oral-mouse, lethal dose 50 percent kill
Risk phrases
(The meaning of any risk phrases which appear in this section is given below.)
R10 R22 R36 R37 R38 = R10 Flammable, R22 Harmful if swallowed, R36 Irritating to eyes, R37 Irritating to respiratory system, R38 Irritating to skin.

posted on Wed, 05/16/2007 - 12:30pm
popcorn consumer's picture
popcorn consumer says:

i love popcorn!!! i will not stop eating it no matter what the butter has in it. If i could i would just eat the butter straight from whatever it is that it comes from and no one can stop me.

posted on Mon, 02/25/2008 - 11:35am
Kitt from Ohio's picture
Kitt from Ohio says:

Our local news just linked the use of butter flavoring to lung problems. My opinion is that if inhaling is a problem then ingestion is threatening to the health of the body as well. But how long to we have to hear that chemicals and preservatives are bad for us. It has to come out over and over again for people to get it! So lets get the word out .........the internet is the power behind Mass communication of any kind, to empower the consumer in every way. Natural is better folks!! As well whole foods, not the processing of them.

posted on Tue, 02/02/2010 - 5:37pm
journey's picture
journey says:

i thhink butter tastes really good

posted on Wed, 02/03/2010 - 10:55am

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