CHICAGO At least one man who ate several bags
of butter-flavored microwave popcorn each day has developed a
life-threatening lung disease possibly caused by an additive in
the popcorn, his doctor says, and U.S. regulators have launched
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday it
received a report from a Denver doctor saying the man has the
lung disease similar to an illness affecting workers in plants
where microwave popcorn is made, FDA spokesman Michael Herndon
said in an e-mailed statement.
"We are currently evaluating the recent information on the
association of inhalation of the food additive diacetyl with
lung disease, and are carefully considering the safety and
regulatory issues it raises," Herndon said.
"This is the first time we're being made aware of a
potential consumer case. We're taking (the doctor's) report
very seriously," said Bernadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
ConAgra Foods Inc, maker of Orville Redenbacher and Act II
microwave popcorn brands, said Wednesday it will drop diacetyl
from its butter-flavored microwave popcorn in the "near future"
to safeguard its employees.
The additive, which gives microwave popcorn a buttery
taste, has long been linked with a rare lung disease,
bronchiolitis obliterans, found in plant workers.
In April, the CDC said workers at factories that make food
flavorings as well as popcorn factories are at risk of
contracting the hard-to-treat condition, which causes symptoms
such as cough and shortness of breath, but steadily worsens.
ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said that after months
of deliberations, the company now expects to remove diacetyl
"within a year" to protect employees who are exposed to large
amounts of the additive.
"We made that decision in order to provide our employees
with the safest work environment possible, but also to
eliminate even the perception of concern for consumers," Childs
said in a telephone interview.
Last month, Weaver Popcorn Co Inc, maker of Pop Weaver
microwave popcorn, said it had removed diacetyl from its
microwave popcorn, in part to address consumers' concerns about
Dr. Cecile Rose, of the National Jewish Medical and
Research Center in Denver, has reported that a patient has
contracted the disease from the daily consumption of several
bags of butter-flavored microwave popcorn for several years.
Rose, in a July 18 letter to the FDA obtained by Reuters,
described a patient who developed progressively worsening
respiratory symptoms that resemble the ones described by
workers affected by bronchiolitis obliterans, which has been
linked to inhaling the food additive diacetyl.
"We cannot be sure that this patient's exposure to
butter-flavored microwave popcorn from daily heavy preparation
has caused his lung disease. However, we have no other
plausible explanation," Rose wrote.
No other details about the man were immediately available.
The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the
United States said it is concerned about the new development.
"This new information ... suggests a possible association
between inhaling the fumes from the preparation of several bags
of heavily butter-flavored microwave popcorn each day when the
butter flavor contains the flavor ingredient diacetyl and the
development of the patient's severe respiratory illness," it
said in a statement
"The information does not suggest a risk from eating the
popcorn," the group said.
Deirdre Flynn, executive director of Popcorn Institute,
which represents U.S. popcorn makers, could not say exactly
where the flavor ingredient is used.
"To my knowledge it's used worldwide," she said.
It could not be immediately determined how many bags of the
popcorn are sold each year.
Shares of ConAgra closed down 42 cents, or 1.6 percent, at
$25.42 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen and Will Dunham)