Artificial Butter Flavoring: Risk to Food Workers

January 1, 2002 - 1 minute read

Popcorn butter may pose risk: In a federal investigation (NIOSH) at a microwave-popcorn plant, the investigators believe the cause of serious lung ailments in twenty four workers was artificial butter flavoring. At least eight workers developed bronchiolitis obliterans: a rare disease in which lung tissue is permanently destroyed. Six of these eight patients are awaiting lung transplants. NIOSH found that the workers at the popcorn plant had twice the national rate of bronchitis and asthma and three times the rate of bronchitis alone.

NIOSH believes that it is safe to eat microwave-cooked popcorn products treated with artificial butter flavoring, but it is workers in the production process who may be at risk because of their intense exposure to the ingredients. Studies conducted by NIOSH, show that feeding artificial butter flavoring to laboratory animals resulted in lung disease and death in many. These investigators are trying to pinpoint the chemical responsible by feeding the animals diacetyl. Interestingly, diacetyl is present in many wines, beers, cookies, candies and cheese-flavored products.