Microwave Popcorn May Cause Lung Damage

UPDATE: First Consumer “Popcorn Lung” Case Found

You probably thought the new, digitally zombified Orville Redenbacher was the most disturbing popcorn-related thing you’d see in 2007, but CNN is reporting (warning: video) that the butter flavoring in microwave popcorn causes permanent, debilitating asthma-like effects in popcorn factory workers.

The chemical, diacetyl (pronounced DIE-ASS-UH-TEAL) has been known to be dangerous for some time. In 2004, a worker was awarded 18 million in damages, according to the CNN video. The EPA has been working on a draft study of the dangers of the chemical to consumers, but hasn’t finalized it yet.

So far one manufacturer, Pop Weaver, has announced that it has stopped using the chemical. ConAgra, the company behind the Orville Redenbacher and Act II brands, says it won’t comment on the final report of the EPA draft until blah blah blah but it will remove diacetyl “in the near future.” Until then, you eat ConAgra popcorn at your own peril.

That’s right! Popcorn. Causes. Lung damage. Welcome back from your holiday.

“Toxic Popcorn” [CNN]

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. jaredgood1 says:

    Sooooo, you should really only be worried if you pop your corn at least 8 hours a day, several hundred bags at a time, right?

    Seriously, I’m betting that walking on the sidewalk next to an average street is worse for your lungs than popping a bag of popcorn.

  2. Landru says:

    Um, actually, you’re not eating it at your own peril at all. The people affected by this are workers making the stuff, not the consumer:

    “the butter flavoring in microwave popcorn causes permanent, debilitating asthma-like effects in popcorn factory workers.”


  3. ian937262 says:

    I’m absolutely shocked. Shocked I tell you. I’m going to go throw out my mega box of butter lovers in a minute. First I need a cigarette though.

  4. smakdphat says:

    I eat popcorn almost every day. its great source of fiber and its a whole grain. and its a very cheap snack.
    I never eat the microwave stuff. I bought a hot air popper and I use an olive oil mister to make the salt or seasoning stick to it.

  5. not_seth_brundle says:

    I avoid microwave popcorn because it tastes bad, whether or not it’s dangerous. Making it in a hot air popper or on the stove is SO much tastier, and also cheaper and generates less waste. You can also put regular kernels in a paper bag in the microwave if you absolutely insist on microwaved popcorn.

  6. Buran says:

    Personally, I prefer the taste of air-popped popcorn with real butter. This might have something to do with the fact that no matter what I do the microwave stuff gets burned and smells awful.

  7. Buran says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Maybe not. Microwave popcorn tends to be a little different from air-popped due to how microwaves pop the kernels. So that may not work too well.

  8. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Buran: Have you tried it? It works; not perfectly, but it does work. Here is Alton Brown’s method:


  9. Red_Eye says:

    Popcorn lung is not news.. Sheesh



    Good to see it getting press though.

  10. NickRB says:

    I love misleading headlines. There is NO DANGER to consumers. To workers MAYBE, but since there is not a complete scientific survey it would be irresponsible to report it as such.

    I love Alton Brown! That’s a good recipe too!

  11. Buran says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Once or twice, with not-very-good results.

    Also, that link got me an “oops!” page.

  12. Buran says:

    @NickRB: It’s not misleading since all it says is “may cause lung damage”. That it does indeed do. It’s just that it’s a lesson in the fact that pre-forming opinions without knowing all the facts is a bad idea.

  13. Yes, diacetyl only seems to be dangerous in cases of long term high levels of exposure.

    The stuff’s still plain nasty, though. Real butter does not make your whole house smell rancid for many hours.

    Fortunately, extreme laziness and popcorn can still come together, with the “natural” flavoured type, which is just the butter-type without the yellow colouring and diacetyl.

    (Which means that what you’re paying for is popcorn kernels glued together with a slab of shortening. Bon appetit!)

  14. thepounder says:

    Sweet, delicious, powdered popcorn butter dust of death.

    That sounds like a new Challenge on MXC.

  15. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Buran: The “oops” is because Gawker’s link embedder thingy and Food Network’s URL formatting don’t get along, but search for Plain Brown Popper and you’ll get the recipe.

  16. allstarecho says:

    Don’t like Orville’s, Act II or Pop Weaver. If you want microwave popcorn that tastes good and has real butter flavor, get Cousin Willie’s Buttery Explosion! Nothing else compares! Found in Walmart and Kroger that I know of, and I’m sure others. Or order from web site [www.ramseypopcorn.com]

    Also, try sprinkling some garlic salt (some like onion salt too) on your butter popcorn. yum yum!

  17. typetive says:

    This is old news.

    However, one of the microwave popcorn companies actually addressed this in a press release last week.

    PopWeaver is going to make butter flavored microwave popcorn without diacetyl.


  18. ChrisC1234 says:

    Isn’t it safe to assume that ANY fine powder inhailed into your lungs on a daily basis will be BAD?!?!? If you inhaled baby powder every day, it would eventually start doing damage…

    I honestly feel bad for anyone who gets afflicted with stuff like this from their job, but when will people learn that companies are NOT looking out for the employees best interests.

    I remember hearing about this way back when (probably in 2004), talking about the employees with reduced lung function… So, you’d bet that most of the companies that make the popcorn would know about the potential problems. And did they stop using it… NO.

  19. ChristopherDavis says:

    Nordic Ware makes a perfectly useful microwave corn popper; it’s a bowl, with a lid that has standoffs at the corners to allow steam to escape. You can pop your corn with a little oil, or without, and you don’t have to deal with “genuine faux butter”! It’s also less than $10, so you can fairly quickly make back the money you spent on it by buying cheaper popcorn instead of prepackaged microwave bags.

  20. lincolnparadox says:

    @ChrisC1234: Anything that goes into your lungs, has to come out again. You could work in a powdered sugar factory, and you would probably have problems.

  21. perianmellon says:

    I’m generally opposed to “uni-taskers” in my kitchen, but I just keep finding reasons to be happy I tracked down a hot-air popper.

  22. The Walking Eye says:


    It’s actually pronounced di-uh-SEET-l. What you have would be diacetal, a different compound. FWIW.

    /channeling anal professors

  23. CyGuy says:

    I suggest that we as popcorn buying public do what we can to reward Pop Weaver for treating their employees responsibly. Try to only purchase Weavers, and write-to/encourage your local grocers to drop brands that still use diacetyl.

  24. Keter says:

    All aerosol oils are a lung risk.

  25. Shadowfire says:

    Jesus Christ, I guess I’ll just stop eating and drinking altogether. It’s only a matter of time before water is found to cause liver failure…

  26. Rusted says:

    @Daniel Rutter: I worked in place where people would pop that stuff. Oh, the stench! Had at least two fires, one of which was under the NOC.

  27. Buran says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Do HTML-embedded links break too? I’ve never seen one break when I use regular HTML formatting instead of just pasting only the URL.

  28. Plasmafire says:

    Hmm Microwave popcorn, Toner, Lead, Asbestos, Occasional Radon, PCB’s, and Transfat, is there anything left in the workplace that won’t kill us?

    Anyways I was starting to wonder why pop weaver tastes so good.

  29. synergy says:

    I was going to agree that your pronunciation key wasn’t right since that’s not the way it was pronounced in my chemistry courses, but then I found at dictionary.reference.com:
    [dahy-uh-SEET-l, –SET-l, dahy-AS-i-tl]

    So apparently there’s more than one way to pronounce it. I’ve mostly heard it as the second pronunciation and a couple of times as the last one.

  30. SeattleOlderBabe says:

    I don’t eat microwave popcorn anymore. I like so many consumers burnt popcorn in my microwave and can’t seem to get the smell or the yellowing out of the microwave. Are the fans and other stuff inside the microwave contaminated from this food flavoring and am I exposing my family to dangerous fumes every time I turn the microwave on and smell that burnt popcorn smell?

    On the Today show there was a guy with popcorn lung. He ate the stuff twice a day for years and yes consumers can get this disease. I called Panasonic, FTP, Consumer Productions & Safety and no one knows anything about this diease and has done nothing about the warnings on this issue in regards to consumers. I left a message with OHSA who seems to have done the only studies for workers.

    What about the consumers?

    Are we going to see a panic attack by consumers who are going to fill up the landfills with microwaves that have popped microwave popcorn or anything else with that additive? How do we know if we had nuked something with that additive and do we just chuck the microwaves just in case?

    I think the microwave industry would like to see that…more sales so I can see why Panasonic could give a rip to the question. But maybe there should have been a warning to consumers back in 2002 or earlier by companies making microwaves about the risks associated with this additive. They have known for years.

    Most food companies don’t disclose everything they put into their products.. I know you think they do but they don’t. I know since we have Celiac Disease and just trying to make sure gluten is not in products is a joke at best. So how can you be sure? You can’t. I used to be little the whiners about food additives and now I understand more clearly that food manufacturers care little about food safety, it is all about the bottom line.

    Our food is made up of so many chemicals or cheap fillers that don’t agree with us. How many of you take ant acids? You really don’t need citric acid in everything to preserve it. Why does most juice have citric acid in it? It is cheap preservative made from corn. Why is soy in tuna fish?

    Next time you buy any food related item just see if you can recognize all the ingredients that they disclose on the package. Remember they don’t disclose everything so when you see “natural flavorings” that could be just about any thing.

    Demand more from the manufacturers and the regulators. Don’t buy the stuff since the bottom line is what they really care about.

    Know thy food source.

    I think we all need to recover from a bad case of corporate greed.