Microwave Popcorn and Laissez Faire: Buyer Beware

Reader Contribution by Stephanie Bloyd

If the Zonyl in microwave popcorn bags wasn’t keeping you away from this convenient snack, now it seems diacetyl, the butter-flavored food additive, emits toxic fumes, not only in the factories where it’s made, but during home use too. And while U.S. governmental bodies aren’t regulating these food additives or packaging, manufacturers are starting to clean up their products based on consumer outcry.

The Pump Handle health blog recently published a letter to federal agencies written by Dr. Cecile Rose of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, regarding her patient with bronchiolitis obliterans, aka ‘popcorn lung.’ The unnamed patient regularly ate microwave popcorn, and developed the condition through home use, rather than workplace exposure. (Numerous lawsuits have been filed by plant workers in facilities that produce diacetyl.)

While she hasn’t received an official response from the government, media outlets picked up on it and alerted consumers. Then the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association issued a statement asking its members to reduce the diacetyl in their products. Weaver Popcorn Co. was the first manufacturer to announce it would remove the chemical from its line of microwave popcorn, prompting Con Agra, makers of Orville Redenbacher and Act II brands, to announce that it would also remove diacetyl.

So in the absence of government regulation, companies are being taken to task by the public, who ultimately vote with their pocketbooks. This trend is also being mirrored by the toy industry, which recently asked federal officials to create mandatory safety testing on toys sold in the U.S. While it’s great that these companies are self regulating, it seems like we’d get more consistent quality control if these chemicals were regulated by the government, like they are in Europe.