First Consumer "Popcorn Lung" Case Found

A Denver man who snarfed microwaved popcorn at least twice a day for over a decade has been diagnosed with the first consumer case of “popcorn lung” an asthma-like condition that results from over-exposure to popcorn fumes, NYT reports.

“When he broke open the bags, after the steam came out, he would often inhale the fragrance because he liked it so much,” Dr. Rose said. “That’s heated diacetyl, which we know from the workers’ studies is the highest risk.”

Dr. Rose measured levels of diacetyl in the man’s home after he made popcorn and found levels of the chemical were similar to those in microwave popcorn plants. She asked the man to stop eating microwave popcorn.

“He was really upset that he couldn’t have it anymore,” Dr. Rose said. “But he complied.”

Now the man has lost 50lbs and his lungs have gotten better. Moral of the story: Don’t OD on popcorn, freakazoids.

Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to a Microwave Popcorn Habit [NYT]
PREVIOUSLY: Microwave Popcorn May Cause Lung Damage
(Photo: and parsecs to go)


Edit Your Comment

  1. markwm says:

    Hot damn. Now I have an excuse to tell my wife not to pop popcorn. I hate the stuff, hate the smell of it, but she loves it. Now, instead of being a selfish jerk, I can be the caring husband; I’m watching out for her health.

  2. not_seth_brundle says:

    Ah, popcorn lunge. Deliciously salty and a great hamstring workout!

  3. Jaysyn was banned for: says:


    And then she’ll start cooking it on the stove, which will make the small permiate you abode even more thoroughly.

  4. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    50 pounds! I wonder how long he’s been “off the corn”?

    I know I lost 25 lbs when I quit drinking Mountain Dew religiously. Unfortunately, I gained most of it back when a quit smoking. You win some & you lose some.

  5. markwm says:

    @Jaysyn: Nah, that takes too much time. By the time she had it prepared, she wouldn’t be craving it anymore.

  6. jeblis says:

    Popcorn lunge tends to give you a popcorn butt, if done properly.

  7. Asvetic says:

    The radiation coming out of my microwave would kill me before “Popcorn Lung” would ever set in.

  8. JustIcedCoffee says:

    Very interesting Post
    My only question is which microwave popcorns use it. As in brand names, light, extra buttery ‘natural’
    It mentions ACT III and Orville Redenbacher — or mabye what brands don’t use it.

  9. scoopy says:

    Everytime I go to the airport, I spend some time in the popcorn lounge.

  10. stubblyhead says:

    i remember my high school track coach used to make us to popcorn lunges for hours, it was murder. i really feel for this guy.

  11. rmz says:

    Twice a day for 10 years? I would think that at some point he would’ve realized how much cheaper it would be to buy bulk popcorn and a real popper.

  12. renilyn says:

    @eslaydog: Did you pay $50 for that privilege? :)

  13. JMH says:

    @jeblis: Is a popcorn butt a good thing?

  14. Erskine says:

    @JMH: “Is a popcorn butt a good thing?”

    No, and it’s usually accompanied by cottage cheese thighs…

  15. tozmervo says:

    @rmz: I was wondering the same thing. And I gather that just spritzing a little melted butter on regular popcorn won’t kill you like the chemical concoction would.

    Of course, you don’t even need a popper. Just a metal mixing bowl covered with tin foil works great – and it’s already in the bowl! (the Alton Brown method, if you will.)

  16. marsneedsrabbits says:

    Is “popcorn lung” anything like the jimmy leg?

  17. bohemian says:

    Our teenager used to make a bag of microwave popcorn every night. I noticed I would start hacking after munching some of said popcorn since the bowl was sitting right next to me on the sofa. This was happening every night.
    I already have asthma and lots of things set that off. I googled asthma and popcorn. I got lots of articles about popcorn lung, they were all discussing the problems with plant workers.
    Out of a pound of paranoia I went out and bought an air popper and some bulk popcorn. The teenager started using that instead, now no hacking and wheezing.
    I have to wonder how many other people are having similar reactions more like mine than the guy in the article and it goes unnoticed.

  18. The_Shadow says:

    If someone likes the convenience of microwave popcorn but doesn’t want to buy the pre-packaged stuff, Alton Brown solved your problem long ago.

    All you need is some popcorn [“loose” IE in a jar or bag] LINK: [],,FOOD_9936_11374,00.html

    Plain Brown Popper
    Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

    1/4 cup good quality popcorn
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or popcorn salt
    Sprinkle jalapeno seasoning mix
    Paper lunch bag

    Toss the popcorn with the olive oil, salt, and jalapeno seasoning mix in the paper bag. Fold the top of the bag over and staple the bag twice to close. Place the bag in the microwave and microwave on high for 2 minutes to 3 minutes, or until there are about 5 seconds between pops.
    NOTE: Popcorn salt is a super-fine salt that is designed especially for sticking to food such as popcorn. It has the taste of regular table salt, but its granules are much finer.

    Recipe Summary
    Prep Time: 5 minutes
    Cook Time: 3 minutes
    Yield: 1 serving
    User Rating: 4 Stars

    Episode#: EA1B09
    Copyright © 2006 Television Food Network, G.P., All Rights Reserved

    In a later show [or maybe his first cookbook] Alton Brown said that you don’t even need to add any oil. Just pour the popcorn in the bag, staple it shut, and put it in the microwave. But if you’re going to have a flavoring of some sort [EG salt] then you’ll probably want to add some oil so that the seasoning will stick to the popcorn.

  19. SoFlaSnowMan says:

    I am also one of those who can’t tolerate the noxious smell of microwave popcorn. When co-workers make it, the smell forces me out of the office.

    It looks like I now have some ammo for why they might want to think twice before nuking popcorn.

  20. bohemian says:


    You can make your own popcorn salt. Take table salt and pulse it in the blender.

  21. HrPingui says:


    Woudn’t the staples catch on fire in the microwave?

  22. Buran says:

    @markwm: Why not just air pop it? You can get a huge bag of popcorn for less than $2 and the popper for $20 or less.

  23. Trai_Dep says:

    Call me a luddite, but it seems that every time that the mad food scientists come up with “innovations” (fake butter, ultra-high-capacity meat processing, cow hormones, HFCS, antibiotics, genetically modified plants), they take what was a safe, delicious process and turn it into something that threatens the planet and its customers. Plus turns them into lard-butts.

  24. Buran says:

    @HrPingui: I think microwaving metal objects makes microwaves spark but I don’t think they start fires.

  25. Buran says:

    @trai_dep: Yes.

    But it’s CHEAPER!

  26. HrPingui says:


    They can catch on fire in the microwave and it is a paper bag. A family member once put some butter (with wrapper) in the microwave to melt it, and the wrapper caught on fire.

  27. The_Shadow says:

    @HrPingui: [and @Buran: @HrPingui:] No, the two staples themselves will not cause a fire, your microwave to explode, or anything like that.

    Alton Brown received so much angry mail about this that he wrote it up in his first cook book. Here’s what he said:



    I wish to defend myself against the charges of microwave abuse. A couple of years ago on a certain television program, I made microwave popcorn from scratch, using plain popping corn, a little olive oil, and salt in a small paper bag sealed with not one, not three, but two standard office staples.

    Well, despite the fact tha I had tested this in no fewer than ten different ovens, and despite the fact that the product was delicious and cheaper than dirt, I received tons of angry mail. People were just sure that their housed would explode.

    No. Relax. It’s okay.

    As long as you’re using a microwave oven with a turntable and you don’t place the bag where the staples can rub against one of the walls, nothing bad will happen. This is because the staples have very little mass and they are shorter than the microwaves themselves, which means they’re basically microwave “invisible.” So don’t be afraid to try the recipe…

    END QUOTE————————————

    Science, it’s what’s for dinner!

  28. mewyn dyner says:


    Exactly right. Microwave ovens operate on the microwave band and have a full wavelength of 12.4cm. Now, to gather maximum energy, you’d have to have a piece of metal one quarter that length (going from zero to peak of the wave) or 3.1cm. Now, unless you are using big box staples or something crazy, you are under the length needed to gather maximum energy.

    Now, the staples will heat up, none the less, as they are gathering a partial quarter wave, but most microwave ovens aren’t powerful enough to burn the bag before the popcorn is cooked (although it is possible for it to happen in a very high powered microwave). If one wants to play it safe, one could moisten the bag around the staples, and that would prevent burning, or use a paper-based tape with a natural adhesive, or just fold it, or do what I do and cook your dang popcorn on the stove! :)

  29. Dervish says:

    I apologize if this was mentioned in the article (I don’t have NYT access), but ConAgra has officially announced that they will be phasing out diacetyl use within the next year.

  30. HeartBurnKid says:

    Folks, it’s not the popcorn — it’s the artificial butter flavoring. Get yourself some plain (not butter flavored) microwave popcorn, and you’ll be fine.

    If you really want that butter flavor (and I know I do), just melt a pat of butter or margarine in your microwave afterwards, and toss with the popcorn.

  31. HeartBurnKid says:

    @The_Shadow: The Alton Brown “plain brown popper” is another good option there. I also get a pretty nice buttery flavor by mixing some Butter Buds (check your store’s spice aisle) in. It combines with the oil and sticks quite nicely to the popcorn.

  32. Elviswasntmyhero says:


    So much for the “Orville [Redenbacher] was found dead in the jacuzzi of his condominium in Coronado, California. He had suffered a heart attack and drowned.” theory.

    Conspiracy theorists, UNTIE!

  33. Katie says:

    A flavor industry article (Perfumer & Flavorist) cites a study which in addition to diacetyl notes, “researchers also identified acetoin and acetaldehyde [flavor substances common for dairy products] as possible culprits.”


  34. NickRB says:

    Umm, does anyone think that the popcorn lung came not from the chemical, but from an idiot that was breathing SUPER HOT BURN YOUR HAND STEAM into his lungs twice a day for 10 years?! I have a feeling that’ the real culprit.

  35. markwm says:

    Hey, stop taking her side! I hate popcorn in general, it’s just that the microwave stuff is most common.

  36. thedreamingtree says:

    Don’t put twisty ties in the micro, I did that as a child when I was nuking something, and it caught fire. I don’t think I would put staples in it, either.

  37. acambras says:


    OT, but I love that there’s actually a publication called “Perfumer & Flavorist.”

  38. freshwater says:

    The thing that annoys me about this story is that factory workers have
    apparently been having these effects for years. But it’s not until a
    “consumer” gets it that the company decides to change it’s recipe. If
    ConAgra cares that little about its employees, do you really think they
    give a s*** about us? They’re only responding to the bad publicity.

  39. hobear23 says:

    air popped popcorn with a generous sprinkling of Real Lime and a little hot sauce is my personal fave. Much healthier for you than all that fake butter, microwaved crap.